11th February, 2014
Sam Ndah-Isaiah, publisher, Leadership Newspapers, explains why he wants to succeed President Goodluck Jonathan
Can you tell us how this whole idea of running for the presidency did come about?
After the 2011 elections, when General Muhammadu Buhari said he was not going to contest any more, some top people sat down and started to strategise for the future. It was at the height of the Boko Haram menace and there was a lot of disorder. These people sat to discuss the way forward for the country. After their meeting, one of the dignitaries at the meeting called to inform me of their meeting. I was outside the country when he called and he told me to be ready to jump in for the presidential race. Funny enough, another senior member, who was part of their meeting, also called me to ask whether somebody had called me in respect of the discussion and I said: ‘Yes sir.’ He then asked me to start coming home so that we could discuss. That was when I realised that this thing is real. I later met him. Then people outside the circle of those who held the first meeting also started calling me and these people are not politicians. This continued until I found myself discussing what I didn’t plan.
Let me give you another anecdote. There was a day I came to Lagos and I went to General T.Y. Danjuma’s house. While I was with him, he looked at me and asked: ‘Has anybody talked to you about yourself?’ I said I didn’t understand his question. He smiled and said some people had come to discuss me. I then told him it was true and I explained how the whole thing came to be. After about seven to eight months, we spoke again and I then realised that it was more serious than I thought. But when it was clear to me that I know what it takes, what the challenges would be, what elections are and their nature in this country, I decided to plunge in. Of course, at that time, General Buhari appeared as if he was not too keen on running, but then, a man is entitled to change his mind. I was just thinking of going to tell him. Like I always say, he is my boss. When he came out in 2003, I was his spokesman and I believe that when he contested against (Chief Olusegun) Obasanjo in 2003, against Umaru (Yar’Adua) in 2007 and Jonathan in 2011, he was clearly the better candidate. If he had won, there is no way we would be at this stage we are now. When I met him, I told him I had thought it over and said, technically, I am in the race for the presidency. He said I should go ahead. I later went back to meet other leaders and those who matter. It was after this that we now set up structures. As we speak now, we have structures in all the 36 states of this country including Abuja. Our national campaign headquarters will be in Minna, Niger State.
The default setting of a Nigerian politician contesting for office is to promise to build roads, hospitals, schools and the lot. In specific terms, what do you intend to do and how specifically do you want to do them?
I am not the kind of person that will come and be promising to build roads, hospitals or pay salaries. These are the normal things for any chief executive. As a president or governor, are you not supposed to pay salary or build roads? But how we intend to be different is clear. The first thing that needs to be done in this country is to bring people together. This country is too divided and some people are enjoying it. We are unnecessarily too divided. It is either you are a northerner or southerner; you are either an Ijebu man or Ekiti man. In fact, there was even a scenario where I called one man a Hausa-Fulani and he was very angry with me, telling me that he is not an Hausa-Fulani, but Fulani. In the East, it is not good enough to be Christian; you must be a Catholic. We are just too divided in this country. But I don’t think it is very difficult to tackle this if we have a president that is sincere. What we need is a president that will ensure simple ethics of fairness, justice and punish all kind of crimes. In Nigeria now, nobody is punished for various crimes committed. And this is one of the things that divide a country. More so, this is the time for very big ideas in various areas. If we call ourselves the biggest country in Africa, there is no reason that we should not have the biggest ports, the biggest aviation system. Now, we are told that by some conservative estimates, 40 million Nigerians have no jobs and that 52 per cent of our youth population is jobless. This should alarm any normal leader. There are various ways of creating 10 to 20 million of jobs at a time by creating policies and putting some things in place. But I believe that, if by the grace of God, we were able to get there, Nigeria will not be the same again.
Considering that you don’t have the vast experience in government, don’t you think you are approaching something that is too big for you?
You can’t be more experienced than Jonathan. He was a deputy governor, and then became a governor. He later became a vice-president before becoming the president. Obasanjo is another person with experience. Obasanjo had no reason to fail. Remember that we worked for him in 1999. We started to write about him even before it became public that he’d be drafted to run. Even before he left prison, we did one analysis, looking at the whole system and we knew that Nigeria needed reconstruction after (General Sani) Abacha. We looked at the field then, Obasanjo was the most qualified. Even his imprisonment was like part of the experience required. Of course, some bigger guys convinced him to serve. We even wanted him to do a single term like Mandela; to change the entire system and make it impossible for any other person to come and mess things up. But, of course, he came and later messed up totally. I think not having that vast experience is the greatest advantage that I have.
Corruption is a very debilitating ailment that the country has. Thankfully, you are a pharmacist. What drug are you going to prescribe for the ailment?
APC (All Progressives Congress) of course.
How would the APC be administered to deliver the healing?
I totally agree with you on the level of corruption. I do not even agree that what we have in this country is corruption, but total madness. Clearly, the war against corruption should be on the front burner of any government. I won’t tell you that part of our party, All Progressives Congress, APC, programme or manifesto is to fight corruption. No. It is part of governance. Once the president is not stealing, even if your uncle is caught stealing, you will deal with him. There is no country in the world that wants to progress, that will not have a serious policy and structures that are functional.
Talking about the system, we are currently practising a presidential system of government. Pundits have said that this system is very expensive and have recommended a return to parliamentary system.
We have done parliamentary, military, diarchy and presidential systems of government. Let us just choose one and make the best of it. The presidential is expensive because some people are earning N50 million every quarter, officially. I am sure President Obama would prefer to be a senator in Nigeria. But we need to do things properly in this country. In other countries, we have heard of successful parliamentary or presidential system. W have heard of very successful monarchies and also heard of very successful military dictatorships. Any time you travel to the United Arab Emirates or any of these Gulf States, you can feel active leadership because you will see or hear of something new. That is active leadership. That is not what we have here. Leadership is not what you enjoy; being president is something to feel cool about. Maybe after you have finished your term, then you can feel cool. If someone is looking for a third term, it means that he didn’t do the job very well. By the time you are on your second term, people would have noticed the difference in your appearance. Look at Obama now and look at Bill Clinton, you’d notice the difference. Clinton is more relaxed than Obama who is looking jaded. Irrespective of the system, this country needs a total redirection.
What is the difference between APC and PDP? Aren’t they two sides of a bad coin?
Lagos. That is the difference. Of course, there is a difference between the two parties. Lagos exemplifies that difference. Go to Kano also, you will see things happening.
In ideological terms, what is the difference?
It is clear. By the time the manifesto is out, you will see the difference. APC wants to be a progressive party. If you see the manifesto that is being drawn, the ideology will be too clear.
In the event that you are asked to step down for another candidate, what would you do?
That is unlikely happen, as we are working so hard to be chosen as our party’s candidate. By the time we are half way, it would be clear that if anybody would be asked to step down, it will not be me.