Senior Pastor of Lagos-based Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, shocked not a few of his supporters when he accepted to be the running mate to General Muhammadu Buhari, presidential standard bearer of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), in next monthís election. In this interview, the charismatic pastor explains why he accepted the offer and also slammed those averse to the involvement of clerics in partisan politics.
The lawyer and pastor was equally unsparing in his criticism of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for wasting 12 years of Nigeriaís nationhood through clueless governance.
He also straightened the records on the controversy that trailed the rejection of $50,000 offered the leadership of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), of which he was the convener, by the Presidency. Excerpts:
How is the new experience of being a pastor and now interacting with politicians?
God has been faithful. CPC is a party with a difference; it is a party with integrity and I dare say, it is completely different from all other parties by all standards. I believe the party has an agenda to turn around the country. You can be rest assured I am not swimming in the midst of sharks.
They may be of a different faith from mine, but I found in the upper echelon of the CPC men of high moral integrity and principle.
Why did you choose CPC and not ACN or even PDP?
With great respect, I wonít touch PDP with a 12-foot pole. The only time I ever stood for anything that benefited PDP was on the issue of constitutionality when they were trying to violate the Constitution. Outside that, I have never had any interaction with the party.
I still believe PDP is a big ostrich that buried its head in the sand. The party is totally disconnected from the people and the felt needs of the people.
As for ACN, the party has some of the values of CPC, but to answer your question directly, I am in CPC because the presidential candidate chose me as his running mate.
Before you were picked as running mate to General Buhari, you were the convener of the Save
Nigeria Group, and so when you were picked it was alleged that you floated the SNG to position yourself for that opportunity. Was that so?
If that is correct, time will tell. If I want to position myself, I wonít go through the round. I am a qualified Nigerian; I can vote and be voted for. With a dint of modesty, I know all the political players, so why would I go roundabout to position myself? Was I chosen because of SNG? No!
You held back some information on the response of General Buhari to some issues you tabled before him. Would you want to give them now?
I held back those I felt should not be given out.
We would have loved to know what he told you, because there is this impression that deputies are spare tyres whose opinions donít count.
Nigerians donít bother to study their constitution. According to the constitution, the Vice President of Nigeria is the chairman of the National Economic Council. Beyond that, he is also the vice chairman of several committees. If we had bothered to check, we would have seen that we have been unfair to the constitution because we donít bother to know what it says.
The position of the vice president is a constitutional issue and section 142 of the constitution says there shall be for the federation a vice president. It is a constitutional office. Section 142, again, calls the vice president an associate of the president, not an aide or an underdog. It reads: ďA candidate for an election for the office of the President shall not be deemed to be validly nominated unless he nominates another candidate as his associate from the same political party who is to occupy the position of the Vice President, and he shall be deemed to be duly elected into that office if the person who nominated him as an associate is duly elected.Ē It is a joint ticket of President and an associate, not an underdog and not a spare tyre. Section 145, which gave us trouble the other time, said that if the president is going on vacation or he is unable to discharge his duties, he must transmit a letter to the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives so that there is no vacuum.
Again, section 146 says that the Vice President shall hold the office of the President in the case of impeachment, death, or permanent incapacity. So, why would you go and pick someone who cannot steer the ship and who is clueless? Going by the Nigerian political history of recent time, the president and the governors have been choosing useless tyres because they donít like anyone that could outshine them or anyone that has the same capacity as themselves. The position of a vice president is a responsible office and I thank God for General Muhammadu Buhari for his secured nature, he is not feeling intimidated in picking me. It is not only for the office of the vice president but also for all party offices. He picked competent people who can steer the ship of the nation.
But Obasanjo behaved at some points in his presidency as if Atiku Abubakar was insignificant and that caused a row.
Yes, it is the President who should choose his vice presidential candidate or his running mate, but two cannot work together unless they agree. Most of our leaders are intimidated and some of them ask those working with them to sign a letter of resignation in advance. How can you work in such an environment of total insecurity?
If someone had told you to do that wonít you do it?
Nobody would tell me to do that. General Buhari is not a man like that. He is self-confident and a secured leader. He is not intimidated by anybody.
General Buhari is a strong character and you are also a strong character, are you sure you wonít rock the boat?
It is not possible, because there are clear delineation of duties and authority. Was Jesus Christ a weak character? Is God a weak character? Is the Holy Spirit a weak character? Do they work together? Is there any discord? There should be no bone of contention among principled people who have clear goals and objectives; it is when you are derailing that you create problems. There is no basis for competition between us. He is clearly the boss.
You have the vice presidents called spare tyre because the vice presidents are clueless and do nothing but carry brief cases around.
You are not a politician and he is a politician and you know that the ways of politicians are queer. How would you handle it when politicians start behaving like politicians?
You know General Buhariís antecedent. You might say he is a democrat, but you canít say he is on the same level with those politicians who specialise in politricks. He is not a Ďpolitricianí, he is a retired general and he has behaved himself in a democratic setting, that was why he went to court instead of calling people to the streets in 2007. He spent 50 months in the court to prove to Nigerians that the 2007 elections were massively rigged.
He is not a regular politician that says one thing and means another. Iíve sat in meetings with him, he is a very precise person and keeps to the agenda of the meeting. He doesnít waste time and doesnít play to the gallery, and calls a spade a spade, which is why working with him is like hand in gloves.
My loyalty is to God and the people of this country, but I owe a lot of loyalty to the man that asked me to come and run with him. Nobody can use me against him. He has my 100 percent loyalty as long as everything we do is ethical, legal and morally correct.
Politicians donít do everything 100 percent ethical.
I think I found a man in General Buhari that believes in ethical uprightness and principles.
How do you react to the gale of criticisms that trailed your emergence as a running mate to General Buhari even from your Christian brothers?
Opinions are like noses, everyone has it but they all look different from person to person. When you look into the Bible, you will see that what is killing the church today is biblical illiteracy.
Someone told me you want to be unequally yoked with unbelievers? I said yes, like Joseph and Pharaoh; like Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar. It shows your immaturity and ignorance. Another said how can a pastor become a politician and I said the same way God took David from the sheepfold and asked him to become the king of Israel. He was a priest, prophet and a king. He wrote most of the things we read in the book of Psalms today.
The Melchizedek priesthood that Jesus is noted for is not a priest after the order of Aaron, his priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek and Melchizedek was a king and a priest.
In Revelation chapter one, the Bible says Jesus died to make us kings and priests for our God and we shall reign on the earth. The Christians want to be cut off from the world, yet they want to influence the same world.
In Romans chapter 13, government officials were twice referred to as ministers of God. Who says you have to be a minister to be on the pulpit? How come Jesus chose professionals as apostles?
At what point did you begin to fall in love with General Buhari. You were once one of his hardest critics? The adverts of what you said of him before are coming out in the papers.
Those ones are the handiwork of mischief-makers; I wonít deny what I said. If I say a thing I will stand by it. I donít change the goalposts in the middle of a game, like the mess that is going on over the NN24 debate where they are trying to white-wash what they said before and change it because it is going to cost them something.
I have never abused General Buhari. I donít use gutter language; I remember I was preaching during a church service and I said opportunity should be given to young people who have integrity to steer the ship of this nation. I still stand by what I said that greater opportunity be given to the youths of Nigeria, but what Nigeria needs today is not generational shift but generational integration.
I spent quality time as the convener of SNG alongside leaders of the group to engage the political class and when we met with them we listed six things that are irreducible. There must be internal democracy in their parties; we want transparency, we want to see the restructuring of the country along the path of true federalism as a cornerstone of the parties, we want to see the policies and programmes you have for Nigerians.
We want to see your position on the secularity of Nigeria.
The only person I found, who was willing to ensure that these were done, was General Muhammadu Buhari and that was as far back as October 10, 2010. I announced the findings at the summit of the Newswatch magazine and I said the most credible candidate I found was General Buhari and I said I didnít know anyone else with his credentials in terms of integrity, consistency and character. Many of those you celebrate are not electable in the real sense of it.
There were fears that a character like General Buhari might drag Nigeria into becoming an Islamic nation, irrespective of the fact that his deputy is a pastor.
How can that be? The fears are unfounded. Give me an example of a nation in recent history that its leader unilaterally declared his country an Islamic Republic. It is not possible. In the Bible, only one person tried to do it. Nebuchadnezzar tried it, but three Hebrew boys said no and nobody performed the worship of that God thereafter. How do you force people against their will?
General Buhariís personal driver of 10 years standing is a Christian. Some of his security details are Christians. He threw out a challenge that any Nigerian that he discriminated against because of his religion should come forward. While he was head of state, what he pulled down were mosques because they were not built in the correct places.
Interestingly, all these things they hang on his head were clarified by Rev. Father Matthew Kukah some years back, who said it was not so; but Nigerian propagandists wonít stop.
How easy can the issue of true federalism be accomplished under Buhari, because being a northerner whose region has benefited from the present system, he might be reluctant?
How has that region benefited from the long years of politicians from the North ruling Nigeria? The northern part of Nigeria today has the greatest number of poor people in Nigeria Ė the almajiris.
You can say the elite in the North have used the power for themselves at the detriment of the people of Nigeria. I saw the almajiris and I tell you these are youths that should be in schools, but the elite didnít see any reason for that. They have great potential, but their leaders refused to develop it for selfish reasons. It is a shame.
Are you assuring Nigerians that the government of General Buhari would put the issue of true federalism on the front burner?
The manifesto of the CPC is very clear on it. It is the first item after the preamble. It says, ďwe will initiate action to amend our constitution with a view to devolving powers and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench federalism and federal spirit.Ē It is in black and white and CPC is the only party that has the deep conviction to write it out. We have time outline of how many days we would be in government before we put into motion the constitution amendment.
In our government, nobody will get bloated pay. The idea of members of the legislature doing the work of the executive will die in our government because there wonít be anything called constituency project, whereby a legislator would be executing projects. That is the job of the executive and this is one way that corruption is encouraged in Nigeria. That is an abuse of power.
But, would that work with the calibre of people planning to come into the National Assembly?
Letís wait and see. One of the things we plan to do is to ensure that the Freedom of Information Bill is allowed to work at full strength. We will constantly bring everything into the open. Nigerians will always know what the issues are because they are the force and power of the country. Sovereignty is in the hands of the people and they will always be alerted of what is happening in the country.
The late President Umaru YaríAdua once cried out about a cartel that is not allowing the power sector to function. How would you tackle that problem?
We should not underestimate the power of the Executive President of Nigeria. He is probably the most powerful president in the whole world.
The truth is, God forbid that your best friends are smugglers. Compromise would always lead to captivity. If part of your system and the people in core leadership with you are corrupt, then you are in trouble. They could be the ones engineering the problem. If those at the top have the conviction of steel that Nigeria requires, there are better ways of handling issues like electricity and power generation. We can do it. That cartel must be disbanded and dismantled.
How do you upstage those profiting from the thriving generator business? These people sponsor candidates into political offices.
It is not wrong to have a generator; but the truth is we wouldnít be hindered by those promoting things that are impoverishing our people. The events in Cairo, Tunisia, and now in Libya have shown that all leaders in Africa must know that their people need jobs and there must be check on corruption.
You speak of internal democracy, but there were lots of crises after the CPC primaries.
We should praise the CPC for its ability to control the crises. If we have a crisis in just four states out of 36, then we should be applauded. It is because of the internal democracy we have that made some aspirants to go to court and win. If we were like some parties, where godfathers just impose candidates, that wonít happen. It is healthy for our democracy.
CPC believes that credible people should lead at all levels of government. Our candidates should not be those people would look at and ask how did this one get here? This is a political party and we must open our door to everybody. But, like the parable of the kingdom, the Bible says it is like the fisherman that throws his net into the sea and he gathers both the good and the bad fish; he then drags the net ashore and separates the good fish and throws the bad ones into the river. We must put in place a system and strategy that would weed out bad characters from the party.
Could you explain the true picture of what happened over the $50,000 offered the SNG by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan? Were you just playing to the gallery?
Who was playing to the gallery? It was the Presidentís men that were playing to the gallery. We didnít book appointment to see him and he sent for us because he said those that were his friends were suddenly turning against him. Orubebe met us before to prepare us for the meeting. I had a written presentation and we did just that and told him why we wonít support his candidature. We asked him his response to some of the issues we raised and he said he would get back to us. He is yet to get back up to this moment as I speak.
When we finished the meeting, Orubebe came with an envelope containing $50,000 and I asked what it was for, and he said it was from the president for our transportation. I said we brought a car and weíve bought our air tickets. Thank you for the offer, but we donít want it. There are issues we are standing upon and how can we collect money from you? Orubebe pleaded that it would be rude of us to reject the Presidentís money, and I said why should it appear rude when we didnít ask for the money? All the time weíve been coming he never offered us money, so why now that we had taken a stand against the culture of impunity going on in the country that he would invite and offer us money? We returned the money to Orubebe, but to our greatest surprise, we had not left the Villa before Saharareporters flashed that Jonathan had bribed SNG leaders with $50,000.
Saharareporters got the information from one of the moles in the Presidency, which was why we came out to clarify issues that we never took it and that the money was with them. I then called those involved to ensure the $50,000 got to the President so that he wonít have the impression that we collected the money.
You mean someone in the Presidency leaked the information?
Yes, we have not left the Villa when I received a text message asking me to confirm whether it was true that SNG leaders got $50,000 bribe from the President.
Could it be they were trying to set you up?
Perhaps, whatever it is, but that is their problem, we rejected the money.
President Jonathan was absent at the recent NN24 Presidential debateÖ
(cuts in) It is because of the culture of impunity they have enthroned. He doesnít think he had to render account and make himself accountable to Nigerians. In my personal opinion, it is the arrogance of incumbency, and beyond that, he just told Nigerians that he was not accountable to them.
But the Jonathan/Sambo campaign organization explained that he was absent because certain minimum standards were not met by the organizers, and that if the standards were met by another organisation, he would attend.
Yes, by another organization they have control over. He is afraid that he didnít know the questions he would be asked. How can he give account of over $32 billion foreign reserve that has gone down to insignificant level, yet we canít see what the government has done with it? He cannot face anybody because he doesnít have an answer to what is going on.
I will beg my boss to allow me to face him or even Namadi Sambo in a debate. What has he done since he was made president? What has he contributed other than promises upon promises, yet the foreign reserve is going down?
Are you challenging them to a debate?
Let them come to an open debate, not a debate organized by them and their cronies.
They said the Taiwo Alimi group is recognized.
Recognized by whom? He accepted to come to the NN24 debate that was why we in CPC, despite the fact that General Buhari was very tired, we asked him to go so that it wonít look as if we were running away from debate.
Do you feel insulted that the President of Nigeria refused to come to the open and debate with his co-contestants?
I said it at the vice presidential debate, I said they are taking us for a ride, and if they are not ready to be accountable they should get out of office.
The Senate President said the new Electoral Act has taken away the power of the tribunals to upturn the result of elections. Is this not a recipe for chaos?
Sometimes you keep quiet not because you have nothing to say. I will ask some questions to counter it. Why are the tribunals being set up? Can the Electoral Act violate the constitution? These men who are not lawyers should not dabble into areas they know nothing about.
Are you bothered by the increasing spate of violence across the country in the days leading to election?
It is worrisome. Akwa Ibom is boiling, but I thank God it is not a CPC rally that triggered it. It is a clear evidence of ďwe are loosing power, so let us create chaos so that the election wonít holdĒ. We are likely to see more of it and I think they might want to use the power of incumbency to release the military and prevent Nigerians from voting. Whether they like it or not, Nigerians will say no to this incompetence. The Nigeria of 2003 and 2007 is not the Nigeria of 2011, the stakes are high and the citizens are enlightened now. The citizenry canít be intimidated again. Even the military is feeling this incompetence that is going on. We will have this election whether they want it or not.
In 2007, General Buhari said there would be a mass action if the election is rigged. Nothing like that happened, he went to court and the rest is history; what will happen if a similar manipulation is done in April, and he has said he wonít go to court?
Look at what happened within the judiciary. I hope those allegations are not true. But if they are, who would waste his time going to the courts? Hitherto, the judiciary was the last hope of the common man, and if that hope is cut off, you are perpetuating hopelessness, and the end product is anarchy.
Do you foresee anarchy?
I am not foreseeing anarchy because, when we get to the bridge, we will cross it. CPC is not calling for violence; we are not going to court because the election will be determined at the polls. We thank God for the Modified Open Secret Ballot system that INEC is using. Accreditation and voting would be done at the same time, so you canít leave one polling booth and go to another. Results would be declared at the polling centre and the polling agents would follow them to the collation centre where he would meet other polling agents.
An attempt to rig would stir up unprecedented crisis the consequences of which are not foreseeable.
Like what we are seeing in North Africa?
Exactly. We are playing with it because I saw multitude of people in Nigeria who are not only registered to vote but also positioned to resist any attempt to rig the election. God forbid the revolt of the poor.
But some government officials believe the North African scenario canít happen here because Nigerians are docile.
So it was with Egyptians all these years, so it was with the people of Tunisia and the people of Libya.
What happens if the result of the election doesnít go the way the CPC wants?
If the election is credible, it will be acceptable. If they are not credible, they wonít be acceptable, not just by the party but Nigerians.
What is the alternative of not going to court?
It is in the hand of the people who voted.
Are you going to instigate the people?
You donít have to instigate them; they are already wired up. They donít need any instigation.
In case the ticket doesnít work, are you going to remain in politics or youíll go back to the church?
To be honest with you, I look into all that is happening here, weíve won already because Nigeria will never be the same again. Weíve won already. Look at the calibre of people coming out to work for Nigeria. This is why opposition should not tear themselves apart. You will not see me talk evil of Nuhu Ribadu, John Oyegun or Fola Adeola; these are quality men that want to bring change to Nigeria. Somewhere along the line, we will need to work together.
The greatest enemy of Nigeria is PDP, they have wasted 12 years for us as a nation, but we believe God will restore those years again.
Is the 12 years wasted?
Absolutely. Look at the resources at their disposal and look at the output, and you will agree with me that the 12 years of PDP are wasted years for Nigeria.
Do you feel scandalized that since January a lot of money has been coming in and no one is talking about it?
That is why they are scared of the debate, because we will ask them some of such questions ourselves. We will bring out those issues. General Buhari was so calm on the day of the NN24 debate because he had said he wonít debate against anyone in the opposition. He has a question for Jonathan. What has been happening to the money they spent on electricity generation all these 12 years, because nothing has changed in that sector?
When you came up as running mate, some people asked what are you bringing to the ticket?
Iíve heard the questions too. They say I have no political base and I donít have influence politically. But they are very wrong. They are ignorant of what we have done over the years. They, who claimed to have the political structures, when Nigeria was going down the precipice, why couldnít they call out their people? What do you think influenced the people that came out in Lagos, Abuja and other places that people turned out? Do they think I gave money to the people as they do? Never have I given money to mobilize people in my life.
Youíve never rented a crowd?
Never have, and never will. For more than 15 years I have been crisscrossing this country and establishing bases everywhere and training the youths. So, when the time came that we are to move, we knew where to press the button. Today, there is no part of the country that I am not received.
The crowd that often welcome General Buhari, are they real?
What do you think? Are they ghosts or you think we rented them? I saw them and I can tell you that we in CPC only paid for three things Ė radio advertisement on BBC Hausa to tell them where the event will take place, the venue to be used and the public address system we use.
We in CPC have never stolen money and we are not planning to go and steal, there is no point trying to buy the people. We are changing the equation.
Is it that you are not buying because you have no money to buy?
Give us some credit. Is the aircraft free of charge? Are the billboards free of charge? Are the posters free of charge? People of goodwill, who believe in what we are doing, are donating to us and we manage the money well to get maximum result from minimum input when we donít have stolen wealth, and we donít receive from everybody.
Is it true that the emirs refused to see General Buhari in Nasarawa?
It is not that they refused; it was the governor that threatened them with deposition. I was not there, but the fact is they didnít receive us, but we still held our campaign and the crowd came out en masse.