Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim recently survived a plot to oust him as presidential candidate of the Alliance for New Nigeria, he emerged stronger rallying more parties to support his ambition on the platform of the People’s Trust. He told Nseobong Okon-Ekong how he hopes to upstage the front liners in the 2019 presidential race
As a founding member and officer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), what chance does Alhaji Atiku Abubakar stand as presidential candidate of the party?
By all standards, the Waziri of Adamawa is qualified to be the President of Nigeria, having been Vice President before. But the 2019 election is a different election. I think Vice President Atiku missed his chance of being president in 2007 and talking about it in 2019 is like talking about the future of Nigeria and at the same time facing and reasoning backwards. I think the choice before Nigerians is between a better Nigeria and the Nigeria that people like Atiku created. Eighty per cent of Nigerians want to see a new direction. They don’t want to go backward. Former Vice President Atiku Abukakar is a man of yesterday.
What competitive edge do you have over him going into this election?
I will be able to unite the country. I will be able to build a strong economy, given my experience. I’m that candidate that majority of voters, particularly, first time voters and they are very significant, almost about 15 million of them who are not supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) or PDP and then, there are my friends in PDP and APC who have made up their mind that when it comes to the presidential election, ‘we will vote Gbenga.’ That’s an edge I have going for me. I believe no other candidate in this election has that.
I think the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) as a party is not all that my political structure is about. The Gbenga Hashim organisation which is our political platform is presently in 36 states of the federation and it is bigger than the ANN. ANN comprises of the founders of the ANN and some of my supporters who agreed to migrate to that party. But the GHO is made up of my supporters and friends who are in APC, PDP, Social Democratic Party (SDP), People’s Trust (PT) and the ANN. We are going to galvanise all these forces for the next election. We have always known that we will come to this point when we started this campaign. The 2019 elections is going to be a different election. You will find some states that when it comes to the presidency, they will vote candidate A and party A. When it comes to governorship they will vote for party B so the results of the presidential election is not going to be measured by the strength of the parties as they are established right now. It’s not automatic that because someone’s in APC, he will vote Buhari. We did an opinion poll six months ago, a survey of people who actually have PVCs. In Lagos for instance, Buhari scored 5%, Atiku scored 3%, majority of the people who are both APC and PDP said they are waiting for a new candidate. The 2019 elections is a unique election. It’s not going to be that simple and this is not just a Nigerian trend. It’s a worldwide trend. In the last elections in the United States, we saw that a lot of democratic supporters, the men, for instance, migrated and voted for Trump even though they were in the Democratic Party. The level at which information travels now is so fast that there’s still a lot of time for people to make up their mind. They have just finished the primary nomination. The choices will be very clear so we still have up to five months to actual balloting. One of the things that has happened in this particular case is that we are having the primary nomination earlier than we have always had. Previously, it happened around November/December. This time around and for whatever reason, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) moved it up and I think it’s good that it’s happening soon enough and there would be adequate time for campaign. In this electronic age, information travels so fast. Four to five months is a long time, the electorate will have adequate time to get familiar with who’s running and on what platform and what issues are being canvassed. I believe we have a lot of advantage on our side and we are very optimistic about the 2019 elections.
I understand that in ANN you have an alliance with People’s Trust. What are the basic issues? What are you presenting?
The PT is a party promoted by National Intervention Movement. The discussion to have an alliance with ANN started as far back as May. It’s not a new thing. We are just consummating that and our national convention which was held in Abuja proves that, it’s not just PT. We have a number of organisations and parties that have also signed up in the alliance. The whole idea is to key in into the strategy of National Intervention Movement that was promoted for almost one year. This is not just any initiative. It’s just being consolidated and taken up with some further steps. I think the issue is to build a stronger political platform that’s also committed to the idea of national unity, economic development, security in the land and to have a Nigeria where the life of every citizen will count and no discrimination against anyone regardless of your ethnic descent and religious beliefs and a true federal system. These are some of the issues that the platform is committed to.
One would have thought that you will identify more with the civil society organisations, which has been your constituency since your days as a student union leader
I think the alliance with the NIM shows you that this is the natural platform that I belong. The leader, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba was the President of the Civil Liberty Organization while I was the National Administrative Secretary of the Committee of Defence for Human Rights. In 1990, along with other patriotic Nigerians (some are late today), we traveled the whole of northern Nigeria consistently for about three weeks in a bus to get the consensus of our people on how to end military rule. We are already working together. I quite understand that there are many civil society structures now outside these traditional structures that we have and there’s a whole historical gap between the civil society activists of the 80’s and the 90’s and some of them today. I believe that we will have a lot of buy-in as the campaign progresses. You start somewhere in order for people to get the right information that they need and then they join in the process, so it’s a developing story.
Your party did not take part in the recent governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun, how strong are other candidates in the different states?
We have very good candidates, particularly we are in the People’s Trust. One thing I can assure you is that we are fielding candidates in virtually all the constituencies and the alliance has given us the opportunity to migrate candidates from different parties in the alliance to the same single platform. Particularly, the presidential and National Assembly elections and that’s what we are going to do. Once INEC finishes with the process of nomination, their names should be published. Given our history, we are coming with a lot of experience that will offer a proper difference. We are going to be presenting people who are tested. It’s only when you are tested that you can talk about your integrity. So the kind of candidates that we are going to be parading are people who are tested, they are not just speaking empty rhetoric and this is how leaders are selected anywhere in the world. We want to ask about their history. It’s unfortunate that History has been taken out of our syllabus of our schools by people who want to hold Nigeria down. Unfortunately, when the military decided to amend the curriculum, it produced a generation of people who don’t have historical consciousness. We have to fill in the void and I think that’s going to be one of the first job we are going to do once we are elected as president. We need to restore content in the Nigerian educational system because the education curriculum that we have doesn’t support patriotism. If you don’t have historical consciousness, you can’t be patriotic. A lot of young people think that Nigeria has always been a mess like this. They don’t know that there were people who stood for integrity. Aminu Kano died without having a house, some of the young people don’t even know. They just think looting and stealing is what Nigeria has always been. It has not always been like that. A lot of people don’t know it’s not Buhari that started anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria. In the 1966 coup, people were killed because over accusation of corruption, yet corruption still didn’t stop in Nigeria. Buhari isn’t the first person that started anti-corruption campaign, a lot of people don’t know that, they don’t know that there are people who have more integrity than people that they are looking at. There’s a sense of void that helps charlatans to get public attention. We need to put a proper education in place that will restore the historical consciousness of young Nigerians. The problem of education is not just about not having enough money or infrastructure, our parents went to school where they trekked many kilometers before they got to school. Some of the school structures were mud houses but what’s important was the content, more than infrastructure. I once listened to a National Universities Commission (NUC) official and he gave some statistics stating that based on the capital and current budgetary allocation to tertiary institutions, that they spend more than N1 million on each student in the university. I know private universities that pay as average as N500,000. If in public schools, the federal government spends up to N1 million on these children, it means that they are spending probably more than the average private school. The issue is more than just allocating more money. You have to look at the content and how the funds are administered to understand the management of the system. It’s this comprehensive programme of reforming the educational system that we are going to be looking at.
What kind of working relationship do you have with the PT?
I think the people’s Trust and ANN alliance is with an intention for a merger and that is on the cards, but because election is here, we have to participate in the election first. With mergers you have to talk about new constitutions and so on. We have already notified INEC as to what we intend to do. After the election, we will see the merger of a number of the existing parties with the initiatives that we are having and that’s where we are going. As I said to you, our organisation which is the campaign platform, the Gbenga Hashim Organization has members of PDP, APC, SDP and various parties so these people are going to vote for us in the presidential election.
In what area of the polity would you make an urgent intervention if elected president?
My priority is to expand the GDP of Nigeria because this is the most important issue. The economy is too small for 180 million people. If you consider that even in 2013, when Nigeria made a lot of money from oil sales, the country made less than USD50 billion in total revenue, that same year Disney World a private company that markets entertainment in Florida made USD47 billion. For 180 million people, that revenue base is too small and its GDP of USD510 billion even though it was celebrated as being the biggest in Africa as at 2013, equals to poverty and that’s why you see that almost 2/3rd of the country’s population still live below USD2 per day. That’s why you see that the life expectancy rate in Nigeria is 53 years, whereas in Liberia that experienced civil war and Ebola on a mass scale, the life expectancy rate is 61 years and Sudan is 63 years. We need to build a bigger economy and the New Economic Development Programme (NEDP) which we have put in place will move Nigeria from USD410 billion to USD4 trillion in 10 years and that will bring our average per capita income to be at par with countries like Malaysia and Thailand. We are not talking about comparing ourselves with the United States or Germany. We not are talking about building a comparable economic base. There is so nothing extraordinary about reaching USD4 trillion GDP in 10 years for a country of 180 million people.
If it boils down to choice, who’s the better evil better Buhari and Atiku?
Let me be clear, the next election will not be a bet between two evils. We have passed that stage in 2015 where Nigerians where forced to make that choice. In 2015, I heard some people saying, ‘I just want Jonathan to go. But can you honestly say that Nigeria is better now than 2015 in all the indices. Even then the results in 2015 was not anything good but that was a referendum about Jonathan. Now Nigerians have four months to make up their mind to choose between evil and good; not to make a choice between the lesser and best evil. That’s the choice before Nigeria: To vote for me as President, not to make a choice between two evils. There’s a clear choice and that choice is between the future of Nigeria, a different Nigeria, a modern Nigeria, an economically prosperous Nigeria, a united Nigeria, a secure Nigeria where the life of every citizen will count regardless of their ethnicity and religion, that’s the choice Nigerians have to make and not to manage.
Are you comfortable with the fact that these two major parties have old men in their 70s as their presidential candidates, will this help you pluck votes from the younger generation?
The two major political parties have their own problems that’s perhaps why somebody like me didn’t run on their platform. I have a lot of friends in PDP, I left PDP in 2006. I have a lot of friends in APC too. I funded the election of some of them into the National Assembly. I funded some people who are big people today in the APC in the past so the point is that when I’m in the ballot it’s a different matter. I’m a young man, but I’m bringing to the table something more than being a young man. I’m not against old people because they are old. Mandela was very old and advanced in age and he was a good president because he had the legacy and history that recommended him to the whole world as a leader. Trump is 70 and the economy is doing well under President Trump even though you don’t like him, the economy of America is growing. So I’m not against anyone because you are young or old, and I’m not marketing myself as a young candidate. That’s not my selling point. The most important thing is the history, experience, competence that I bring to the table so it’s not just a question of young versus old. You are not breaking any record by being young. We need young people but young people with content, history and experience. There’s some kind of skill set that’s necessary and I take exception to people who don’t want to have any kind of experience, they just want to start from the top. You don’t want to be a councilor or council chairman, but your first time in politics is to become President. Even if you are coming from a business background, you have led corporations and which exposes you to some level of politics and that gives you some experience to be president of a country, but you don’t have any such history, you have never been a student union leader, trade union leader, even if its chairman of road transport workers union, that’s some politics, that gives you some experience. I’m not just saying any young man. I’m not against old people, as long you are competent and have something to offer we will take you for who you are. I will like to encourage a lot of young people, but I also want people to have the required skill set to do the job well. One of the difference between me and other people is that I started very early. There’s nothing to come up as a young leader, there’s nothing about it as long as you have prerequisite training and there’s no job in this world without a skill set if you want to do well in that job.
What are the facts about the recent crisis that rocked the ANN?
Once a party starts becoming relevant. You will have lots of internal contestations. Sometimes people sponsor from outside because they don’t want a formidable challenger competing with them and that was the case with ANN. There were attempts to have one convention where a candidate was supposed to have been produced with delegates from six states out of 26 states, where the ANN is presently constituted but at the end of the day the NEC took the appropriate decision to annul that and those who tried to do that have been punished according to the party’s constitution. At the convention of the party where we had about 20 states in attendance out of the 26 states, I was elected presidential candidate, a decision was also taken to fast track the alliance discussion with other political parties like PT, which also adopted me as their presidential candidate. We have about 10 political parties also coming to the alliance and I will be running as the flag bearer of the entire alliance of these political parties. For different reasons some of our supporters ended up in different political parties, some in the SDP, some will say, ‘the time is too short we are in PDP and we already have a governorship candidate that has been campaigning, we will vote for our governor and vote for you in the presidential election.’ The GHO is the big machine plus the alliance platform for the 2019 election. We are in a unique circumstance, even these two big parties that you are talking about- the APC virtually in every state had factional congresses. What you are talking about isn’t unique to ANN. This is expected. For us, the GHO and the alliance platform is a big platform that will be able to compete with APC.
The crisis in ANN came from the APC. Some powerful elements in the APC who have presidential vision and who think that the APC platform may not be available for them post 2019 elections want to use the ANN as a parchment for their interest. One of their plans was to make sure that ANN didn’t have any nomination at all for any office, that was defeated by our members who have been patriotic and then the second attempt was this last sponsored crisis, but that’s politics.
Are you ready for the presidential debate?
I’m look forward to the presidential debate with President Buhari and others who are presidential candidates of their various parties.
There are insinuations that Buhari will be sending Vice President Osinbajo to debate on his behalf?
I won’t debate with Osinbajo because he’s not the presidential candidate. Osinbajo will debate with my running mate.
I have a lot of friends in PDP, I left PDP in 2006. I have a lot of friends in APC too. I funded the election of some of them into the National Assembly. I funded some people who are big people today in the APC in the past so the point is that when I’m in the ballot it’s a different matter. I’m a young man, but I’m bringing to the table something more than being a young man. I’m not against old people because they are old. Mandela was very old and advanced in age and he was a good president because he had the legacy and history that recommended him to the whole world as a leader. Trump is 70 and the economy is doing well under President Trump