Fresh Democratic Party presidential candidate, Rev. Chris Okotie is back in the familiar road of contesting to occupy Aso Rock as Nigeriaís political leader.
But about his presidential bid, the third time, certain questions beg clarification. That was the reason Saturday Sun sought his audience to let Nigerians know the passion that drives him this hard as to stick to the resolve that he will make it to the number one seat.
But the erudite, bombastic and loquacious Okotie is a delight for interviews. He held back nothing in this brazen encounter like he never did before about what motivates him, his pattern of struggle and plans for Nigeria to become a better place should he win the presidency.
In the discussion, he raised a lot of salient issues about his bid and left nothing to speculation on why he thinks he is fit to be the president of Nigeria, including how he has impacted on Nigerians politics since 2002 when he joined the turf.
Be sure of one thing Ė the vintage Rev. Okotie delivered his lines in his usual flowery and highfalutin verses. That adds to your fun in hearing him out.
This is your third outing, or shot at the presidency. Why these many times?
I think it is a demonstration of my seriousness and tenacity to that genuine intention to satisfy the urge in me in that direction. I said it earlier that it is a mandate from a higher authority. Within the context of the Nigerian leadership God has thought it necessary to advise His servant to participate in the political process or the leadership of this nation so as to eradicate the incessant phenomenon of bad leadership and to deliver the people from the experience of what we have observed in the past decade or so.
Today we hear of people of your constituency, that is the clergy, like Pastor Tunde Bakare, showing interest in politics. Is the tenacity on your side as you mentioned a motivation to that effect?
I believe that since I have blazed the trail, and survived it so to speak, it has became evident to many of our colleagues that this is the terrain we should explore. Moreover, we believe that the earth is the Lordís and the fullness thereof. Therefore it is our responsibility to guide Nigeria. So I think that the novelty of my action and step in politics has inspired my other colleagues within the ecclesiastical fold to take the bull by the horn and stand in the political gap and place of responsibility for the people of Nigeria and liberate the people politically. So I am really encouraged that things are turning out that way.
What then is your level of preparedness for the contest ahead?
I think we are more prepared now than in the past years. The prevailing circumstances in the nation bear out my position because we see that longing in the people and in the political landscape of the nation. There is this prevailing psyche of the people and there is no hiding from the truth that change is imminent. And the apathy towards PDP is becoming universal in our nation today. So unconsciously, people have identified options that would be alternatives to the PDP. And I think I play a very prominent role in providing both the awareness that led to that positive apathy and the search for the alternative and indeed the alternative platform itself.
How are you exploiting the apathy to your advantage as a candidate opposed to PDP?
We from time articulated the philosophy of a political paradigm shift and generational change as the only option to the decayed Nigeriaís political conundrum. And PDP as the dominating party has not been able to establish any cohesion this time around through the manifest arbitrary circumvention of its own constitution. It has enlightened the public as to their lack of integrity, and the lack of ideological perpendicularity, the penchant and tilt not to the side of integrity and an ideological disconnect. And the fragmentation within its fold is a salutary pointer to the truth that PDP has no ideological or clear-cut base but just a business conglomerate. And so people have come to embrace that reality now, so the attention I am getting as one in opposition to the PDP is much stronger now than it used to be.
Political victory has foundation in strategy and how you put it to work. What for instance did your party do to mobilise your supporters and Nigerians by way of awareness during the votersí registration like many other groups did?
Yes, we actually did much on that. Indeed, we did the same. Fortunately for us the Body of Christ has become more aware and politically alive to its duties. So it was easy to galvanise and motivate them to register.
That is within your church?
No, not just within the church or the local assembly but the entire Body of Christ as I said. We encouraged and enlightened them to go out and register. We made them know that it has become imperative for them to participate fully in the political process of the nation. And I assure you that the response was fantastic.
I also pointed out to the Nigerian people the danger of what the PDP did to its own constitution. But it was most unfortunate that PDP wanted to hoodwink them into thinking of that aberrant action in terms of response to a geo-political equation balancing. But I made them know that what they saw at the primaries was improper.
What level of the primaries are you referring to?
It was the presidential primaries to be precise. I state that the circumvention of the party constitution was detestable. In every organisation, there are institutions that are enshrined for the cohesion and proper working of the system to guarantee the longevity. This is most prominent in a federal structure where methods are created to strengthen the body and protect also the weaker parties of the unit. These include cultural groups like the ACF, Afenifere and others and also things like ethnic balancing, geo-political rotation etc. They guarantee an inclusive and all embracing participation. They cause a gravitation towards centripetal fusion, and what PDP did to its own laws and indeed the north is unprecedented.
What they have shown to the nation is their inclination and arbitrary use of powers to make nonsense those formations and creations within it that guide against misconduct and abuses. They by that act showed the nation they have no regard for constituted authorities or laid down rules even the ones they made. So their ability to guide the nation on the course and path of law is questionable. It therefore also means that tomorrow PDP can excise a part of the nation, either by tinkering with the constitution or some other overt means like they did with their constitution. As sacrosanct as the constitution and agreement is, this party has willfully banalized such sanctity. With that attitude to itself, there is nothing of value it can safeguard. If it can ignore the monolith of the northern part of the nation within the political party matrix, no section of this country is safe under its watch. I donít think the north should forgive him for this act. I have been talking to the people on the dangers of the skewed system.
With such powers, there is no stopping them in their drive to their tendencies. This is another area we have exploited because the PDP has pulled the wool over the eyes of Nigerians with the plot that they want the South South in power. It is not a South South agenda, but a PDP counter agenda. The progressives and discerning Nigerians should come together and make sure that Goodluck Jonathan is voted out of power. Every society has rules and normative structures that foster progress, and they guarantee equity, fairness and development. And these are encapsulated in a legal protocol called the constitution. Even if the PDP was desirous of changing the position, it would have been based on negotiation and not bullying or the application of a nebulous excuse in the neighbourhood of fait accompli.
What it showed is that the tenets of democracy within its arms will suffer terribly. If a party would banish its own constitution based on such arbitrary capricious whim, then democracy is jeopardized. I am not saying this because of Atiku or the north or any other body, but the system because if Jonathan wins the election by hook or crook, we are in trouble. For the sake of Nigeria and democracy, the north as a body should come together and vote out Jonathan. If we allow that we would set a dangerous precedent.
Do you argue this way because you and Jonathan come from the same geo-political zone?
Not at all. When YaríAdua emerged winner in 2007, I was in opposition to PDP but I didnít take this position, because they followed the zoning principle within their party. I argue this way today because what PDP did is a travesty of the political and democratic process. It impugns the principles of order. They not only ridiculed the north, they made it impossible for them to get a foothold in the party or put up a fight. In my thinking, the north should in protest opt out of PDP and any intention to make Jonathan win. In fact the north has an option.
What is the option?
Their options to get redress are clear. They include what I call diametrical opposition Ė where if they see somebody else from the South South they should back him and shun Jonathan. They should also apply the principle and approach of disruptive persuasion based on the Hegelian concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. It gets impetus in the thoughts of Karl Marx in dialectical materialism. It means what PDP did in the primaries becomes the thesis, then the north with the people should engender a programme that is antithetical to that thesis, and then both the thesis and antithesis would be harmonized through a negotiation and that reveals the synthesis. And that is the synthesis. So they should shop for alternative. The synthesis will prove that Jonathan wonít be the president. But it should be another person.
From the South South?
Yes, of course
And who should that be?
Oh, definitely, there are no two ways about it that the relevant option open to the north is indeed Chris Okotie. I am a far better option than Jonathan. But that does not mean that just anybody from the South South remains the way out or good for Nigeria. If I argue that way, I would be sinking into the clime of regional xenophobia. If the South South would produce the leader of the nation, then we owe it a duty to give the nation the best that would actualise the leadership yearnings of the people over time. And in my view, Jonathan doesnít meet the quality.
I ask you again, how have you capitalised on these lapses in PDP and Jonathan to woo the north to vote you as alternative to Jonathan?
I have done just that and will continue to do it. I go round wooing the people from their leadership to the ordinary voter. I am hoping that the plans pull through and in the next possible time, the negotiations will yield fruits. We have reached the progressives outside of our party to make them see the lapses and danger in PDP and how to close ranks and vote them out as it affects Nigeria as a political entity. We are articulating the same philosophy. And we have deployed even the media. I believe that as we begin to impress upon Nigerians the imperative of coming together to frustrate the PDP dangerous precedents, it would gather momentum and positive results will come.
Rev. Okotie, let us be specific. Do you have any relationship with the ACF for instance to lobby the north and actualise your dreams?
There are covert negotiations that are going on right now that I cannot reveal to you for reasons of political expediency and security. But I will tell you that with time. And at this point in our political revolution, they are sensitive and those that buy my ideas and dreams will become sure allies. I am ready, willing and open to speak with anyone. I am a ready ally and partner with anybody or group that believes in the furtherance of the Nigerian dream to entrench democracy and destroy PDP.
So when do you flag-off your political campaign?
You talk about campaign. Is it the rally or just any one?
All forms of campaigns for a presidential candidate, including a rally?
Oh, definitely we have been on. If you have been following the media you would have been seeing my campaign jingles on the network news and others.
What about rallies, because people value such gatherings and they also make impacts? To some extent the voters would want to see and interact with you.
Sure it must come. The rallies would come at the end of the campaign. When you are executing a project like mine, you map out how you go about it and what comes first and so on. So open rally will come last.
But you know rallies must be part of it because people believe in show?
It is true and I believe it is important. I believe in the importance of rallies because when you are dealing with the society memories are short most times and beed reinforcement.
How do you view running a party that doesnít have candidates vying for other positions and with tentacles all over the nation. What is the possibility of a candidate of such party winning the presidential election?
Yes, from an understanding of the way our politics works, it is possible and even good because it allows for centrality of the efforts of the party to pursue the political agenda of winning the presidency. Democracy will be practiced better with some structure only at the centre.
But you need a structure at all levels to get there; at least the people that do the leg work?
The political structure we have shows that it is not the gubernatorial candidate we have in state for instance that influences the people on who to vote.
But you still need such agents. Do you have any agents outside here to help in your project?
Yes, we do. The issue of not having such agents in every corner of the state has not and never been our problem. The problem we have is that elections have never been free and fair. Nigerians are desirous of a change. In fact in 2007 and 2003 we had people who were at the polling stations to represent the interest of the party without even being party members. The people need change, and I am sure of that.
How many of such agents do you have?
We have many of them it is not just about the number.
So what you say is that you have agents in the 774 LGAs of Nigeria?
It might not be in all of them, but we sure have agents enough. It could not be in whatever number of LGAs, but we have agents in every state to guarantee that our party wins and that interests are not shortchanged if only elections are fair and credible. My understanding of our party not winning or Okotie not winning is because elections have never been free or fair. That is why you see all the imbalances and fictitious statistics published by the government after elections. Nigerians know what the problem is and you donít actually need to be member of the Fresh Democratic Party to have a grasp of what the issue is about. We all know what the people are going through in electricity inadequacy, failed educational system, bad hospitals that have turned to mortuaries and the serious cases of insecurity. There are so many problems and all of us know them as the real facts that speak eloquently on the desire of the people for change. You are going to see social movement like you never saw before. They people will say no to the status quo provided they will be allowed such chance through credible elections.
Nigerians believe votes will count this time. You have itemised the lapses in PDP and the system with the need for change, once again, tell Nigerians what concrete steps you have taken to reach the electorates and make things come your way after the election apart from party bias?
I have discovered the fact that Nigerians have this universal brotherhood in the area of pains. That in itself is our strongest campaign strategy because it really works for us. We donít have to go round so much to the whole people because that winning factor is already there. It takes just a party or candidate that understands it to turn it into good use. Because of the long crisis the people have been into, they have recognized that unless they do something nothing would be done. I think that we are at that point where a society galvanizes itself to face the reality and starts to demand for change just like we see in global events all around us today. It is going on everywhere but PDP doesnít seem to be in touch with that reality. They still think they can keep carrying on with their ways in fanfare, subterfuge, shenanigans and machinations because they donít know what goes on in homes and private lives of individuals. As a pastor I know how the people feel because I work with them. The only power the PDP has is incumbency, and if we were to have a free and fair election, PDP will definitely not win no matter the extent of structure they have in every community. And I know they are good in aligning Nigerians to some things by pecuniary inducement with the government money they throw around.
If you were to find yourself in a forum of all presidential candidates in a debate, what is that point you think would give you an edge over them and make you win?
That first and foremost point is the intellectual capacity. From the reminiscences I have of the polity, I believe very strongly that our politics has not entered the intellectual aura where issues would rule the day and determine the winner by swaying the voter. That is why we have the kind of medieval politics we play here.
Number two advantage is the spiritual profundity. It is not just enough to have the intellect. But there should be a balancing because man is a spiritual being and he owes allegiance to a higher authority. And the sensibilities that he acquires from his creator find expression in the things he does with the people. The reason our government has been this way is that the operators are callous and hardened. We need leadership that is sensitive and engender a system that will exfoliate the outer skin of political insensitivity. So I believe that on the two legs of being a servant of God and owe my responsibility to my God while operating with super authority, it crates a certain compassion that makes my leadership messianic.
Have you transferred these qualities to the people who will make you the president Ė the electorate, apart from Godís will you hinge on?
Yes, I have communicated that. I say to the people ask yourself the question Ė why would Rev. Okotie stake his life, his ministry, his security, his finances. Why? I mean it defies any logical argument that he would endanger his life and be diametrically opposed to the status quo, stand in contradiction to the order and power of the day if he doesnít think he operates under the control of a higher influence. If it were a political career, I would have joined the PDP by now. Many of them in the PDP are not as articulate as I am and donít even understand the workings of power play or the political and socio-economic equation in the 21st century. They have in the past made overtures to me for so many years to join the PDP. But I refused because the party and myself donít operate on the same philosophical pedestal. If I were not propelled by a higher power, why would I spend my own money and jeopardize my money and the safety of my family to oppose a government that fly off the handle and delve into murderous tendencies and has no value for life. The interest is higher and vertically motivates me. I would have also gone into coalition with the government of the day. But I maintain and stay away from them while not relenting in continued pontification of those political concepts I recognize would augur well for the future of the nation.
So, donít you believe in political alliances?
Why havenít you forged one with parties of like minds to oust PDP?
I believe that I would do that when the time is right. I believe that there is a season and time for everything. When the season comes the agitation becomes ubiquitous and when the time comes, the mandate becomes an imperative.
Do you now intend to fuse the Fresh Democratic Party with another political party?
Not just another party, but with several other like bodies if the belief is right, and if the flow of thought and ideology synchronise for the extrication of Nigeria from the claws and shackles of bad leadership or the lack of leadership entirely.
But there is a need for you to win the presidency?
Yes, but not at all cost.
If you should win, canít you satisfy the groundwork and prerequisites?
I believe you are right, but not the do-or-die way. If the party is going to forge an alliance, there has to be an assurance of political and ideological compatibility. There has to be a consensus reality. There have to be principles, ideas to facilitate such fusion.
That means you have not found such compatible platform yet or it doesnít exist?
No I donít say it doesnít exist or I donít need it, what I mean is that we have to do what is necessary at the right time. We canít rush into it. And I assure and still say we are still negotiating and such options remain open to the party. But mark you, we must find and locate these qualities before we would conclude on such dicey move. I assure once again that whenever we find these factors and the satisfying impetuses for amalgamation in these longings to work to liberate the nation, we wonít waste time.
Is that going to be before or after the elections?
Yes, because we are still searching as I said. It depends on when we find that amalgamation possibility. I do believe that 2011 election will not be an end in itself. After the elections, politics remains.
Rev. Okotie, the way you run the Household of God Church today is not the way you did at the beginning. You have gained from experience, and even in politics, this is your third time. What experiences have you gained to make your task better and results more assured?
When I began, I did not quite understand the prevarications of politicians. I took them by their words not knowing that they all or most of them have the capacity to speak from both sides of their mouths effective. I was under the illusion that political parties had an ideological base. I thought the philosophies of parties galvanized into their manifestos guided their operation. I later found out that these were mere faÁade; that most of our politicians, especially in the PDP do not know or have an ideological base. There were pure contraptions meant only to capture power at all costs. There was no cohesion, rather the common denominator of amassing wealth. It was a shock. But it just helped me to go back to the base and re-assess strategy. In military tactics, you fight and retreat not because of defeat but for tactical re-evaluation.
What mistakes did you realise you made and how did you make up?
I found that resilience is the major quality for success in politics. If you are resilient and tenacious, victory will eventually come. That is why someone like Abraham Lincoln won after many failures. He remained resilient and tenacious. So I learnt that the machinations of men should not discourage us. I learnt that the disappointments we meet and the expectations that we have concerning men should not stop us. I discovered that at the end of my first outing, some of the people within the party, then it was in the NDP, were so discouraged that they vowed not to have anything to do with politics. We experienced so many uncivil things. For me I decided that this mandate is from above, and I have to continue. That is the same story.
People think you have been a success in most things you pursued before politics. But would you in sincerity say you have pursued your political agenda with the same candour and success measure?
Yes, indeed. When I started in 2002, I began by enunciating some political issues and ideas. Many of the people who were there that time with a wave of the hand just said I had such highfaluting ideas that were utopian and unrealistic or unnecessary. But today, the same concepts that I began to advocate are here. My colleagues in politics today re-echo generational change and paradigm shift. They are today the universal concepts in Nigerian politics. They have become clichť more or less. The geriatric politicians that we have today who have recycled, re-aligned and redesigned themselves were to my mind the flotsam and jetsam of our political system. But I am happy these ideas and inventions have survived and wonít die.
That means even if Rev. Okotie has not won the elections, he has won in cultivating the right ideologies?
Definitely. Definitely. Definitely.
Have you ever met a fan of yours who told you that the way you pursue your political agenda might not win you the presidential election?
And what was your response?
I said to them that I know what I target. I also reminded them that I donít buy the idea of if you canít beat them, join them, in order to win. I said I donít subscribe to that defeatist and escapist philosophy. So it doesnít matter if one finds himself in a situation of abandonment by most others because he does not get the extent of support as you say. When Jesus walked on the water, his disciples thought he was a ghost, and could not believe in the reality because they never saw it happen before. But with time they saw the possibility and that it is also a winning way because not long after, Peter also walked on water. What I am saying is that if we are going to dismantle the system in Nigeria from the hand of these juggernauts, we must demonstrate strength. There is a Japanese proverb that says that experience must bear the strength of views. I know people fault my approach and say; are you not there to win an election? I know I need to win an election, but most importantly I will prefer to win an election that will lead to the emergence of a new Nigeria. That in itself would remain most profound to me than just winning an election. Jonathan is the president of Nigeria that operates within a status quo that is beyond his powers to change. I donít want that kind of presidency. I look for a leadership that is the beginning of a march towards liberation of the system. I want a leadership that will create a fresh Nigeria.
So the reason you joined politics is not to win election actually, but to win the creation of attitudinal change in Nigeria politics?
I think that is the most reasonable thing you have said here today since the discussion started. That is exactly it. So leadership is meant to grow and get better. And if leadership does not inspire the people, it becomes redundant. The reason the government taken in tandem so far has not inspired the people is the inherent disconnect between the government and the people.
Okay, how would you walk the nationís economy on a different track if you become the president?
Let me start this way; there are two kinds of economy Ė economy for the politics and economy for self that deals with the individual. You donít need to go to the university to study economics to know how to manage your life and family. My father was a civil servant with the prisons. He never studied economics. But he had the clear idea of economics that enabled him to manage and train his many children. Economy is the connection between reality and theory. If you know all the economics and donít align it to the reality of the daily activities and lives of the people, such economics is fit for the trashcan. It is wrong prioritisation that kills Nigeria because I believe the nation has too much money, not just enough of it. And because of uneven distribution because the interests of the people donít occupy the top of the priority chart, that is why Nigeria is in the present quagmire. In my idea of economy as president of Nigeria, the people should come first. Even the mono economy as we have in oil is enough if used well.
If a fraction of the structural investments made in the oil sector were made in human capital development, we would have taken a quantum leap as at now. So whatever I would do about the economy would be tailored towards enhancing the life of the common people of Nigeria Ė healthcare, transportation, education, housing, power. That is where we would direct the core of our leadership energy. Diversification is okay, but that is not only the way out. The only and most effective method is taking the people first. There should be fiscal responsibility. Within the confines of conventional propriety, as I speak, you sense danger when you see lawmakers of an impoverished people take home lump sums of money as pay. It is unhealthy that they consume for themselves a great percentage of the budget. That means the money budgeted is already spent before budget is passed. We will make sure all the processes that lead to revenue generation and the proper use are fostered and placed under presidential oversight. We have enough resources already.
So, how could you manage the restiveness in the Niger Delta?
I think that situation there and doing away with it is really predicated on fidelity. There are too many people within the system who are treacherous to solving the Niger Delta problems. I have often said President Jonathan does not, with due respect, represent the Niger Delta, but the PDP interest, otherwise the people causing trouble in the area would have seen him as one of theirs and the problems would come to an end. The restiveness would have ended.
He represents the PDP and the region sees him as a stranger and the bellicosity still prevails. If Chris Okotie gets there, we will restore fidelity because that gives birth to political trust. The PDP canít be trusted. I will deal directly with the people and leave out the too many intermediaries who even aggravate the hostility. I recognize what the problem is and I believe that once they see that you care, they will work with you and lay down their arms. The people need just compassion and empathy. Initially they laid down their arms until they discovered that the PDP could not be trusted. A Chris Okotie government will circumvent the bottlenecks created by the intermediaries so that whatever agreement we arrive at will be worked out in practical terms.
Would you be ready to team up with another party for the race as running mate?
I would never be a running mate to anybody. I canít just accept it. Not for any reason of arrogance or inability to accept humble beginnings. The major reason is that the VPís office in Nigeria is a very redundant one and canít effect or influence policies and agenda. Jonathan bears eloquent testimony to that truism. As VP he almost maintained a pariah status within the power structure, even as deputy governor. It is defeating of my reason for joining politics to make and influence a change.
What if you will be the presidential candidate?
That would work only if we have some ideological connectivity. If our philosophies are co-terminus, I will be glad to do that so that I will have the opportunity to enhance the lives of the people of Nigeria as I dream to.
Do you know people get power only through certain platforms Ė the civil society, establishment, powerful political groups etc, but you just aspire or fight solo. Is that the best?
I donít fight solo. I disagree with that. But it takes some level of bravado to do what I am doing.
Is it because you think you have the money to do it alone?
No. That is not the reason. There are many rich Nigerians that canít do it. It takes not just the money, but the bravado, dependent on the value you place on the people. After all sacrifice is co-terminus with an underlying philosophy. If I value Nigerians, I would be willing to do anything good and possible to fight for them. So whichever way God deems fit to bring me to a position of authority to change the society is welcome and I will follow.
We see you give awards and do some other charity work, but donít really identify you with the civil society as a base. What is the reason?
No, I really align with willing and relevant bodies. And anybody who knows and believes in Nigeria canít rule out the truth that civil advocacy is an integral part of nation building. I have respect for such organizations. But beyond that, I donít see myself as an activist but as a mediator. In that role I must be seen to be dispassionate to create a rapprochement within the factions that be. That is why you donít hear me mouth slogans that are militant or abrasive or indicating me as in the mood for confrontation. I want to align with Nigeria and remain in oppos