Professor Bankole Okuwa, National Chairman of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), says pressure on the pan-Yoruba Socio-Cultural organisation, Afenifere, to adopt the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for the region would amount to a mistake and warns the leadership to be wary of those behind the moves. In this interview with Femi Ogbonnikan, the Ijebu Ode-born politician further sheds light on the implication of identifying with the SDP, a party that now has links with retired Gen Ibrahim Babangida. Excerpts:
What is the prospect of your party, UPN, winning the 2019 Ogun State governorship contest?
T he Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) has been working hard. I, as the National Chairman of the party, I have no doubt in my mind that the Ogun State people are listening and we shall win the governorship election, including the senatorial positions. We will also go ahead and win the House of Representatives seats and the State’s House of Assembly seats respectively. I am not just saying. I have my reasons. We have been calling on Nigerians, especially the Ogun State people, to think twice. Don’t sell your votes; because you are going to put yourself in trouble. If you sell your votes, you sell your rights and then, the future of your children. The PDP in Ogun State is broken beyond repairs. You can’t put it together anymore. And the APC is also broken from the centre. Buhari has so much problems and the SDP which was an affiliated member of the APC, I think, they are withdrawing their support for APC now and they want to start again. It is just too late for them to do anything. If they don’t seem to believe it, but coming elections would tell on them. For instance, in Ijebu Ode or Ijebu area, I can tell you affirmatively, the SDP has no ward anywhere and it is unfortunate.
There has been alignment and re-alignment of forces between and among political parties. Is UPN also considering this option to align with any of the two major political parties that we have in Nigeria?
UPN would take a decision on alignment when the issue comes up. I can’t really tell you, even as I am the National Chairman, I can’t tell you straight away that the UPN will take part in it. What bothers UPN right now is that, the UPN is not just an ordinary party. This is Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s party, Awo, the greatest politician and the greatest achiever in the Nigerian political development. Everybody knows and we are working on his legacies. We haven’t abandoned anything there. We appreciate the man and we are telling the people about it.
We are trying to remind people, to remember the good old days that the UPN wants to bring them back to the state and the Yoruba areas. So, when you talk of alignment with the big parties, you want to align with corrupt politicians. I don’t know if Nigerians have any future. If Nigerians are thoughtful and hopeful, if Nigerians want to preserve this country then, PDP is out. APC is not as bad as PDP but the APC now has even failed, fundamentally. Look at all the killings, herdsmen killings. I have never seen such things. Boko Haram, I know about it. When it is time I will tell you. The Federal government, I read in today’s newspaper and they said that Obama failed them. Obama didn’t fail them. I was in the United States and I knew the position of Obama. And I knew what the American government did.
The information given to Nigeria, I knew about it. The Nigerian government is inefficient. We don’t care in this part of the world. We don’t care for our people. Those who want to run the government here, go and look at their characters. The Afenifere group, these are meaningful characters; people who wish this country very well. I mean, Afenifere has tremendous influence on the thinking of Nigerians. They are visionaries. Mention all the names there, they are good people. If you may remember, when the national confab was called before Jonathan left office, who was invited to handle it? It was the Afenifere man, Dr. Femi Okunrounmu. The man read Mathematics. Let me tell you, those who attend York and Harvard, they lead the country politically, because they are like trailer-prepared. If you go to Britain, those who attend Oxford and Cambridge, you will find out they are prepared for leadership positions. These people are not looking for money but honour and development for their people. So, Okunrounmu, I know him, he attended Harvard. So, the moment I saw that he was invited, why didn’t the PDP group pick somebody of their own or from some other place? Okunrounmu is not aligning with any political party but he is in Afenifere. He has all these honours. He has all these contentment. These are the kind of people we want to be in front of the politics in Nigeria. So, when you are dealing with Afenifere, you are dealing with a group of highly disciplined people who have integrity. And that comes from the Action Group days which reflect the values or legacies of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Currently, SDP is reaching out to Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, to build and consolidate its stronghold in Southwest. Don’t you think it will not be an aberration for Afenifere to support SDP, instead of your party which shares the same ideologies with Awolowo’s legacies?
Well, I know that people are going to analyse it by themselves. But it would be a tragic mistake if Afenifere goes ahead to accept or try to help SDP or to identify with it as a political group, but they can’t do it. The history is there. When SDP ruined itself two weeks ago, they called on IBB who annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola. Falae is a fine man. I think what I have against him was all about the monies distributed by PDP for the 2015 general elections, then. So, I don’t know their relationship but I think it was a tragic mistake on Falae’s part. IBB scuttled MKO’s efforts to become President and these people went to him; I don’t understand. I mean, what do you think, ask the ordinary people, even people who are not educated: What do they want from him? They will ask you to provide them the answer.
Is UPN also reaching out to Afenifere for the same support?
Of course, yes. We are willing to. We are wishing too. But we don’t want a dispute. We want them to look at our party, the structure and accept. In fact, we are offering them everything. The only thing we have exception for is our governorship candidate in Ogun State, Otunba Rotimi Paseda, and our National Secretary. They should leave as they are. As for me, I am the National Chairman of the party. I am willing to forgo my position in honour of Chief Awolowo and his legacies. Why should I stand in the way? Who am I to stand in the way of what will benefit everybody? No! Those in PDP, they fought themselves and may be, they needed boxing gloves when they were struggling to capture the national chairmanship of their party. The same happened in the APC. In Ogun State, the structure is everywhere; we participated in the 2016 local government election. We were very active. Even though I am still an old person now, but I am very active, healthy and I shall continue to serve these demands of the party until God’s time.
There is this rumour that Afenifere has adopted SDP for the 2019 general elections. What do you think?
That adoption didn’t sail through. I was there, personally. Actually, the Afenifere did not adopt SDP. They Afenifere leadership knew that there is a controversy about it. So, the adoption didn’t carry the day and it was like, they wanted to see how everybody was going to react to it. I was there personally and I reacted negatively to it. What happened? It is not a good idea. One thing that interests me was ex-Governor Olusegun Mimiko from Ondo State was there. And he said something very reasonable, something acceptable, something very wise. He said his advice would be, that all the parties that can be called or described as Afenifere-inclined political parties should be left alone for now. Let them go for the general elections. If Party ‘A’ can win here or Party ‘B’ can win there in Yorubaland, fine. After the elections, they can come together and try to re-align. How do you want to imagine it? We (UPN) have been in existence since 2013. We ran the last 2015 general elections. In 2016, in the entire Ogun State, we took part in the local government election fully. And our governorship candidate, Otunba Rotimi Paseda, is ready. He has been going here and there.
Within the last couple of weeks, our aspirant all came out, from the House of Assembly, Senate and to the House of Representatives. How do you do it? Adopt a party that has no structure on ground and ask us to go and queue behind it? Is that the way to do it? I am sure that the Afenifere has seen the problems and it is not good for them to have considered this situation but they know that soon and I am also sure that Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who just published his auto-biography, would object to it. I want you to buy a copy and read it. You are going to see the problems of this country there and the history of those who don’t want anything good for this country and those who want just for their own pockets. So, I think, that was not a decision as such but it was a controversy and it is good that they started it.