I feel compelled to write about this because I had been broaching the issue and writing around it – and I had taken pains to discuss this with the parties that matter. Now that PACT has culminated in the way I predicted it would because of its many contradictions and naive assumptions, it is apt to recount how it all panned out.
I woke up today 31st August, 2018 to see a message from amiable Fela Durotoye calling for support and unity. It took me a while to reply the message. Fela is not someone you would easily dislike. Or want to dislike. He has a disarming, charming personality and is everyone’s pal. I loved him at first sight when I first met him like 15 years ago. He hasn’t changed. But when I replied him today, I made him know that my thinking is to see him and Kingsley Moghalu, myself and Sowore, on the final ballot representing different political parties. I am greedy for talent. I have an artistic streak in me and sometimes find it hard to choose between two beautiful pieces of art. Fela, Kingsley, Sowore and others have different hues of uniqueness that we must not discard even for the sake of political expediency. Like I had advised the PACT before – and been ignored – we should spend more time to take such an important decision. There is no point rushing to press when we should be heating up the system and throwing in all the good ideas we have to help our nation. More on this later.
My initial reaction to the news of a consensus candidate was sadness because this situation could have been totally avoided. Why should one promising talent knock out another extremely promising talent when they both could have continued adding value to Nigeria even as aspirants? I must confess that personally, from a perspective of economic competence, international connections, perhaps even maturity that comes with age, I would have wanted to see a Kingsley Moghalu emerge even though I felt it was too soon for that to happen. I had told him too. I used an analogy of how opportunistic predators like to isolate their prey for a ‘take down’. Already Kingsley’s campaign is facing the beginnings of a backlash from government agencies as his bill boards are being defaced. I don’t even believe that Kingsley needed that group because he was doing great on his own and had covered much ground compared to some of us who don’t have as much resources. From the point of view of getting the best brains to rescue Nigeria, I couldn’t bear seeing Kingsley’s dreams truncated so early. He has to now find any and every way to keep keeping on but I can imagine the backlash he will get and how the usual suspects will try and make mincemeat of him.
For Fela too, the crown he has obtained is fraught with problems, and of limited value. On one hand I know he had some issues at his party, the ANN. The endorsement he has obtained may amount to some free advertisement for ANN, where he has a strong man called Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim to deal with. Ordinarily, whoever obtained the ‘consensus candidate’ crown was supposed to have a smooth sailing to compete with Buhari or whoever APC put forward. But now, it may just be that that garland will only be used to compete at a primaries and may probably be defeated because as we hear, Mr Hashim has a lot of financial superpower to have the party around his little finger by controlling all the state excos! This crown is getting devalued. Then there is the fact that only 7 people voted for the winner of the consensus. Fela had 4 votes, Kingsley had 3. What is 7 votes in a situation where over 70 people and counting are aspiring to the seat of the presidency? Is the PACT representative or approximative of the aspirations of Nigerians? What weight does PACT carry among the voting populace especially those who don’t have their beloved aspirants prominently represented in the group? Then with Kingsley’s ‘expected’ repudiation of the process and outcome, the crown lost even more value and became sort of a poisoned chalice.
WHAT HAPPENED IN PACT
I attended the inaugural meeting of the young aspirants on the 31st of July 2018 at the behest of Mathias Tsado who is an aspirant on the platform of the ADP. We were like 15 on that day and guys like Ahmed Buhari, Sowore, Alistair Soyode, Eragbe Anselm, Sina Fagbenro-Byron, Jaiye Gaskiya and a few more were present. On that day the moment someone moved that we form a coalition, Sowore opted out and said he will not be part of any coalition because the word had already been abused. To the claim by some members that none of us could win single-handedly against Buhari, Sowore objected too. The man has great confidence that he can defeat Buhari and that is remarkable, given his tempo. I recall that it was Fela who came up with the name to call the group PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRANTS COMING TOGETHER (PACT). I told him right there and then that that was plain genius!
On that day, we later met at Charly Boy’s house in Abuja and Kingsley Moghalu was there. He had sent a rep for the morning meeting.
Charly Boy posed a question as to what procedures we should adopt in arriving at a consensus. I was the second to last to speak but I believe my suggestion was more comprehensive. I advised 5 steps:
- We should first expand the group to at least 40 because many people were out there aspiring and if we were too few, our outcome will be useless as so many other people outside the PACT would still power on regardless.
- We should maintain an opening for those who may want to opt out of the group up to a certain point such that if they continue till the end they cannot say they are reneging. I preferred this to be in writing.
- That we should have several more meetings and begin to invite the public to witness what we are doing – eg through Facebook Live – such as to have their buy-in. We should not rush it at all.
- That we should then begin to organize debates among members so that Nigerian people can see and hear the plans we have for them and also increase the buy-in.
- That if possible we should have an election before the election, by allowing all Nigerians who are interested to vote for who they choose among us. On this one I know that some of the members there present have more followership online and in diaspora than others but I believe that the long and drawn out process would at least build a good tempo for all of us and give legitimacy to the project.
At the Charly Boy meeting someone also suggested that the first thing is for all aspirants to obtain their party candidacy and then return for proper discussions.
As at the next meeting on the 9th of August, 2018 some of the members notably Eragbe Anselm, Jaiye Gaskiya, myself and the representative from Dr Nicholas Felix repeated the need for aspirants to obtain their party candidacy. Mr Gaskiya threatened to walk away if such processes are not followed. I also told the house I align with Gaskiya. Mr Byron also chimed in on the group WhatsApp forum to that effect, apart from advising the group should go slow on the emphasis on youths and the need to be more inclusive.
The chief drivers of the process were of the view that we should choose the consensus candidate among us rather than take it to the public. They also insisted that a decision should be finally reached on the 30th of August, 2018 and they got a majority vote behind them. At that point I was out. I did not attend the meeting of 16th of August for this reason and after following through the discussions on the WhatsApp group, I left on the 23rd of August 2018. Before leaving I repeated my concerns. There was a deficit of participation, inclusiveness, commitment (because many of the aspirants had nothing to lose), and I saw an apparent desire to avoid an open debate. In considering criteria for prequalification, I recall asking that it should matter whether someone had written articles or books about the Nigerian question and/or proffered ways forward in cogent manner. That too was stepped down. I felt at that point that we were actively potentially working to position more lightweights who hadn’t given the Nigerian question any deep thought, a shot at the presidency – at the expense of those who had better to offer.
I received a couple of calls from members of this group in the days after I left, which I respectfully answered. I always felt like a bit lost in the meeting or that some of us knew just a little bit more than others. It felt like one was being blindsided or railroaded and with my current experience as a party chairman, I know better than to walk into a sucker punch. I looked at the permutations and there was no way the outcomes will be fair, chiefly because the small numbers swung the odds massively in favor of some people who had closer relationship than with others. For example, three of the members of the group were from a singular political party, ANN, and we were actively building this group when we heard that they boycotted their party convention at which one Mr Olawepo-Hashim took the party over. I recall telling them that if they all lost in the process we were working on, Mr Hashim will never step down on the basis of the meeting we were having. So what was the point? Even I did not have the mandate of my party to commit them at that meeting and I do have another aspirant within my party to contend with. There was even a very interesting situation where Alhaji Alkali, an aspirant on the platform of APC joined the group and would usually belittle other parties. I asked him at plenary one day if he would tell President Buhari to step down in case he lost to another consensus candidate. We had too many people who were sure they will not obtain their party candidacy at all, now becoming kingmakers and having every opportunity to sideswipe anyone they felt was formidable.
Curiously Kingsley Moghalu who in my view has vast experience and resources at his disposal was ambushed in this group. I heard from usually unreliable sources that he was promised by a few guys that he had the candidacy in the bag only for guys to move against him. I haven’t confirmed this. But he has the battle of his life in his hands right now. I note that being a political party chairman prepares one for many things and is way ahead of experiences in the private sector. For one, anyone involved in politics should be very careful to trust so soon. Also, in my view, when one desires a post too badly, it is also quite dangerous and makes one vulnerable. Vulnerability is not an asset in politics.
THE “NOW NOW!” MENTALITY
In my view, we oughtn’t be in much of a hurry and the youths of Nigeria have entered a typical cul-de-sac because we have attempted to handle a very serious situation in a cavalier manner. This is our future in our hands but we went and adopted a microwave approach.
This is a fatal flaw of the young and indeed a reason why older people are ahead. But the situation is not irredeemable. In this politics, we have to be extra careful and have to consider every step of the chess game very carefully. Just because our friends on Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook are fervently demanding for that ‘consensus candidate’ “now now!” does not mean we should suspend our thinking cap and rush out somebody. We should appeal for patience and take our time to ensure a very transparent process. All is not lost. We can even redo this process with a view to coming out with a consensus candidate in January – as I had been advising. Let us drag the usually disinterested Nigerian youths into it a bit deeper. Let them feel the heat. Let them get involved. Let them know that for something this important, they have to sweat, they have to think, they have to struggle. Let it even cost the youth some coins. Critiquing on social media is not enough. Let’s get in the trenches.
For me, no matter the shenanigans of politics, honesty always trumps. Yes, honesty is the king of all political strategies. Honesty, and an innocent, incorruptible mind. They stand out in a clime like ours.