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Selfishness of politicians has hampered Nigerian progress – Okunola  

Mutiu Kunle Okunola, a grassroots politician and business tycoon was the Lagos PDP candidate for the House of Representatives for Ikeja Federal constituency in the 2019 general election. He recently defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress with his supporters. In this exclusive interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he spoke about his move the APC, the 2023 presidency, electoral reforms, among other issues. Excerpts:

Why did you defect from the PDP to the APC?

Actually, the narrative has changed; politics is about inclusion and dominating your territory. The Nigeria project is based on power rotation, when you do eight years; other regions get it until it get to all. So, it is between North and South. When I was in PDP it was the right of the North to produce President. I am in support of power rotation, so now that Northern tenure is expiring and President Muhammadu Buhari would be expected to leave power, it is normal for everybody to crave for power rotation to their regions in the South. But that can only be effective for the ruling party; other parties may not be able to accomplish that, which means that I can only be relevant in APC than elsewhere. My belief is that the unity of Nigeria cannot be compromised; some past leaders who have benefited from Nigeria, some of these people were past ministers, lawmakers and whatever, and now they are professing doom for the country based on their selfishness. But the country was not in good state when they were in power, so it should not be them that should be telling us if this is not done Nigeria would be in war. So, it is about their personal interest, conspiracy and what have you. I don’t believe in dirty politics; I had to change my party in order to contribute to the unity of the country and that is the essence why I am in politics. I am a graduate, a businessman, I have other jobs I do, but my own input in politics is for the unity and progress of the country.

How have you been received in the APC since you joined in your ward and local government level?

You have forgotten where I am coming from. I was a candidate of that party in the last general election so I am a leader. As a leader your responsibility is to grow the people. I have been well received in APC because they know it is a benefit for people like me to be in the party. I am not coming to the party to see what I can benefit, but I am coming to see how I can contribute my quota towards 2023. I have made it clear to people; I am not coming to run for position, or to take what belong to others, so I am working for a new tomorrow. The next level of Nigeria I believe is in 2023, so I am putting my best into it believing I would be adequately taken care of because the essence of coming into politics is what you want to be and what you want to get; so the reception has been great. Recently, I was at a programme at my ward, you need to see the reception and hospitality given to me, because I have been taking care of them; the woman leader, the youth leader, you need to see the crowd. About 2,000 people came with me on the day of my declaration for the APC. I am a known leader in the state, in my local government and my ward. So, since I have joined the APC I have started the TNN project and working, I have been going round the country inaugurating chapters.

It is a workable platform for peace and actualisation of the 2023 agenda for Tinubu, so people are happy we are able to bring this kind of structure into place.

You have contested elections twice in PDP and lost; judging from what transpired in the 2019 election where you were allegedly rigged out and physically manhandled by touts, wouldn’t some of your supporters be surprised you defected to a APC that ill-treated you and robbed you of your chance of getting victory at that election?.

I want them to also have a change of mind; governance is not about party but the chance to serve your people. I have never been able to serve, so if it is APC that would make my dream come true, so be it. I am serving Nigerians not my personal pocket. There is nothing wrong for me to join APC to add my quota to the development of Nigeria. A lot of people are pointing finger at me that APC is a failing party because they lost elections last year; but we should join hand to move the country forward.

We don’t have to say because APC is in power I would not contribute my quota. It is not politics of bitterness; so, there is nothing wrong for me to join APC and serve my people because I tried at the other end and was unable to succeed. It is about good governance and not about party; 70 percent of the people in APC now were in PDP as well before because there was a conspiracy in allowing APC to take over due to impunity in the system then. So, some people worked towards APC taking over power in 2015. I mean some people who were tired of PDP worked for APC’s emergence, a lot of people were tired and worked towards APC, some of us were in the dark then but now we have seen the light. We have to work for the unity of the country. You cannot blame the President for appointing people he believes and convinced would deliver for him. So, the federal character may not be followed, but what cannot bend is the rotation of the presidency. Whatever you do in your turn, other people would visit you with such. So, it is important that you work for progress and unity of the country when in power.

What is the brain behind forming the TNN movement?

It is Nigeria unity forum, it is based on power rotation, I mean power must rotate from the North to the South and if it rotates to the South it is going to Bola Ahmed Tinubu. If you want him, you would queue with us; if you don’t want him you would be outside while we lobby you. Southeast can get their presidency in the PDP; I don’t want to talk about the turn of the Southeast getting the president somehow. Let us work together and fight for it, power is not served ala-carte; it is fought for.  So, at the same time, while we are saying power should come to the South people are still going to vote for their candidates during the presidential election. So, you cannot take your presidency based on sentiment when you are not relevant. Right now, there is no APC governor in the entire Southeast states; so, who are you going to give power to, who is the custodian of the presidency? We set up TNN to fight for Tinubu the same way we are going to fight for the North when the turn of the South expires.

But Tinubu has not declared his intension to contest for the presidency in 2023?

Actually, it is not needed for Tinubu to declare his intension to contest for the presidency in 2023 now; those that declared their intension to contest for the presidency at an early stage did not realise their ambition. When the time comes and we have gotten there, when he sees the crowd he would come and declare. Let him come and recue us and work tirelessly for the country. The project is not for Tinubu to tell us he is going to contest; the project is for us to call him out to come and contest. To whom much is given, much is expected.

The talk now is about amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act toward the 2023 elections; what areas do you think need attention?

Our agitation for electoral reforms is total; it is not a cosmetic reform. What we are clamouring for is to compel INEC to go into E-voting and include electronic transmission of results. We want them to have application where everybody can vote and register even in their homes. We don’t want any frustration to registering to vote. Rigging starts during the registration process; people should be able to register in their bedroom. If there is need, there could be centre for thumb printing, capturing, etc. There could be process, where you can easily go to the application of INEC and get serial number where you can vote and be recognised with. So, this issue of deploying NYSC members, deploying ten people in polling units, losing lives, and spending billions to conduct elections would not come in. People would go about their business and vote at their convenience; once it is time, the portal would close. So, without losing single life and spending billions, we can conduct free and fair elections. The world is now a global village; citizens can vote from anywhere in the world. So, most of these things are being frustrated by colonial masters, who have benefited from the system. Buhari was on the road too, but today he is there and would leave just like Obasanjo. But those who have been benefiting from the system since the1960’s, I mean the colonial masters, are holding us down. We are also saying that you cannot be allowed to contest and vote in an election if you have not resided in a place for more than two years. We are all Nigerians, we should be allowed to vote and contribute to the process. Why are they making the process cumbersome? The kind of reforms we want is for everybody to have access to information, so that you would not be able to transfer someone from a place to cause problem. Look at what is happening in the country now, nobody knows where we are going now; we are leaving in fear,

You talked about reforms in your lecture at the University of Lagos some months back; what do you mean?

Yes, we talked about constitutional review which would give face value to the country. We talked about constitutional reforms. This constitution does not give us peace and power rotation in the constitution is faulty or maybe, it should be included. The constitution was given to us by colonial masters. What we are saying is that there should be a president and vice president and that there should be six vice presidents in each regions and when we have the death of the president of such region, the vice president of the region would  be the one that would complete the tenure of the president in that region. It would end the current confusion and put to rest the calls for restructuring and marginalisation. Everybody would know that there is fairness. So, the vice president would have to watch how programmes and funds are being utilised to check fraud. The vice president would see that regional programmes can go and some exclusive list can be taken away from the Federal Government.

The Federal Government too would play supervisor roles in some areas. Look at the NYSC scheme, it has failed; people are redeploying from where they are posted, anyhow. We are advocating for a two-party system funded by government where candidates would have to send their election budgetary allocation and expenses, and government would take care of such expenditures, for those candidates.

This would enable those in public positions to serve the citizens rather than borrowing money to contest elections and when they get there or lose the elections they would be selling properties to pay back. This can check corruption too. Why can’t we fund political parties so that they can be independent? This would also play a role in curtailing defection of politicians from one party to the other.

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