Comrade Sunny Ofehe is Chief Executive Officer of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) which has been in the forefront of campaign against environmental pollution, gas flare, pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta region. In this interview with JOE OGBODU, Ofehe bares his mind on why he thinks President Goodluck Jonathan lost in the last Presidential Election to General Muhammadu Buhari and the implication of the defeat in the Niger Delta among other sundry issues. Excerpts
Jonathan became the first incumbent President to be defeated in a Presidential election in the history of Nigeria, why do you think Buhari won?
You know PDP is the biggest and most powerful political party in Nigeria until all the other political parties formed an alliance and APC was born. So APC became the largest opposition party in the country. That alliance gave APC the momentum and when the choice for Buhari was announced, the momentum became even stronger. The idea of Yemi Osinbajo as his running mate was a good decision because he was not controversial that was why all the criticisms were directed at Buhari while Prof. Osinbajo, as a pastor attracted majority of Christians in the South-West.
APC was also very organised during the campaign and for the first time in history took their campaign offshore. They paraded The General very well internationally, organised town hall meetings with Nigerians in the Diaspora, international community’s senior government officials and diplomats. With the image of President Jonathan already damaged abroad, Buhari was certain to get the support of the West and that clearly showed from the joint warning given to the government by the US and the UK few days to the elections that they must ensure that the elections were peaceful and fair. While all these were going, on the President’s media team was busy being petty!
How did Nigerians in Diaspora received the news of Buhari’s victory in the March 28th Presidential election?
If the election was conducted in Diaspora, Buhari would have won landslide. It was clear that the popularity of President Jonathan plummeted to a record low since after the Chibok girls were abducted.
Gen. Buhari and his running mate Yemi Osinbajo spent the last months of their campaigns addressing Nigerians and the international communities of their determination and reasons why they are the best choice for the country. They engaged in constructive and productive meetings with top international politicians, government officials, and civil society organizations. Take for example the much publicised Chatham House meeting in London.
Meanwhile, President Jonathan’s media moguls were busy fighting a detrimental war with the opponent. They tend to forget that the highest percentage of Nigerian political debaters on the social media are the diasporans. Nigerians in the Diaspora can influence their families back home to exercise their votes in favor of their choice candidate. Remember, majority are the breadwinners in their family.
When I observed that the popularity of the opposition was more than that of the President, I tried many times to raise this with some people I know in the government or close associates of the President but they ignored my warnings.
Though there were tons of supporters for him but they had no sense of direction and real purpose. It was also very difficult to publicly defend the President on an international platform. Though he had some achievements to his credit but they were not properly publicised.
Why do you think he lost the election?
President Goodluck Jonathan was a very popular person among Nigerians and that reflected on his winning in the 2011 Presidential elections. I was one of the unpopular voices from the South – South who felt Jonathan should have allowed the North to complete the Yar’Adua term particularly when it became controversial and led to a national debate.
The President would have positioned himself in a way that his heroic antecedent would have started from bowing out to the wishes of the Northerners and position himself as the best and credible candidate from the South-South to take over the reign of affairs. He could have still retained his position as Vice President under any Northern President. If that had happened he would have completed his constitutionally mandated two terms in office. I think he was misled by those who saw his Presidency as an opportunity to enjoy political affluence and wealth. It was from that moment he fell out with a few powerful forces from the North and even South-West and that played a role in the overwhelming rejection he got from the polls in those areas.
On the issue of corruption, he didn’t really impose himself on it and his administration was plagued with so much corruption whereas, he was never a part of it but he never took any drastic action to convince anybody he was the answer to our quest to eradicate corruption in the country. He also made some questionable decisions that portrayed him as a president encouraging corruption. Take a look at some of the recipients of his national award, State pardon and political appointments, you are left wondering about his intentions.
Boko Haram and the abducted Chibok Girls
Also the insecurity in the North-East of Nigeria caused by Boko Haram made him very unpopular, particularly after the abduction of the Chibok girls. I wouldn’t say he was affected because he didn’t defeat Boko Haram or released the girls, it was the way he managed the crisis that contributed to his loss. It took him a long time to meet the families of the girls.
I never saw any Nigerian fallen soldier getting a heroic and national burial like what we saw in France after the terrorist attack that left four police officers dead. As a leader, little actions like this will restore confidence in the people you serve and draw up sympathy for you even when you are losing the battle.
Also, the strategy to attack the opposition personally was wrong. The issue of Buhari’s certificate, the issue of his health and what he did and did not do as a military Head of State was baseless, at a time when Nigerians were hungry and unemployed, these topics became meaningless.
There is no doubt that President Jonathan despite losing his popularity took some bold steps in the economic sector. It was in his administration that Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa, the rebasing of the economy reached an unprecedented half a trillion dollars and the agricultural sector got a massive boost while at it.
You have met President Goodluck Jonathan, how can you describe him?
The President is a very good person. He is humble and very respectful to everyone irrespective of your social status. Those who have met him will attest to this. He is also a very shy person who will always smile and make friendly gesture whenever he is around strangers. Unfortunately, many people around him particularly those in his inner circle took advantage of his simplicity. The majority of them became demi-gods, egoistic, arrogant and power drunk; their actions brought the good President many enemies even from the Niger Delta region.
I have heard many people say President Goodluck Jonathan was too corrupt, I stand here to say without fear or favor that Goodluck Jonathan was never corrupt and has never been and is not materialistic either. I agree when people say he surrounded himself with very corrupt people and the fact that he couldn’t manage them well affected the public opinion of him.
People of the Niger Delta voted overwhelmingly for Jonathan; have they lost out?
The defeat of Jonathan is a big loss for the region. The people would have loved the opportunity to give their candidate the second chance to complete a second tenure in office. However, it cannot be considered to be a lost election for the region. Nigeria is a very big country with so much diversity in ethnicity and region. We should not forget that late President Yar’Adua’s administration was hailed for his handling of the region’s problems. It was in his administration that some of the policies enjoyed today by the region came into full force.
We must not forget that despite the regions complain of marginalisation, the states from the region still receive the highest share of Federal revenue allocation. Besides, it is only the states in the region that gets 13% derivation from profit made from crude oil. If these resources are well managed, our dependence on who becomes the President of Nigeria will be insignificant. The election should rather be a wakeup call for the people of the region to remain steadfast and appreciate the fact that their votes counted.