Can you confirm that some governors and senators are set to defect to your party?
First of all, you know there is a leadership vacuum created by the two bigger parties – the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress – as a result of bad governance. That led to a situation where Nigerians were disillusioned and the search for an alternative platform commenced. So, like-minded Nigerians from the political class and the civil society organisations came together and began the search for a new political platform that is credible and capable of ushering in a credible government that will implement the people’s programme. It is a fact that five governors and 35 senators have been meeting and they have endorsed this coming together. They are strongly behind it and it does not end there; others will also begin to join as soon as the time permits. It has to do with strategy. So, it is a fact that we have those numbers that we have been meeting with for some time, and for strategic reasons, their names will not be mentioned now.
You may recall that during the 2015 elections, a similar coalition was what led to the enthronement of the (now ruling) APC government. So, a precedent was set during that election. It is now clear that the easiest way to replace a non-performing government in Nigeria is for the opposition to come together. It is, therefore, a replay of what happened in the 2015 election that is about to take place. So, it is obvious that Nigerians are disillusioned and the government has not actually performed. It has not fulfilled its promises of better electricity supply, employment creation and security. All these have become worse under this government, and because of that, stakeholders decided to come together and perform a similar feat that was performed in 2015. So, right now, the vehicle has started.
So, there is that consensus of opinion by a majority of those who want to aspire to political offices in 2019 that they are at home with the Chief Olu Falae’s leadership.
How can the SDP survive in a political climate dominated by the APC and the PDP?
The party (SDP), as you know, has a long history. It has won elections in the past at governorship level and even at the presidential level. This long history has also contributed to the factors that have led to the adoption of the SDP. The party, as it is now, despite the fact that it is an opposition party, has a broad base. As I speak, if you go to Delta State, the SDP has members in the state assembly. If you go to the North-Central states of Adamawa and Taraba, we have members in the state assemblies. Even nearby here in the Suleja Local Government Area (Niger State), out of the 10 councillors, the SDP has three. So, you can see that it is not a regional party. So, all these factors contribute in large portion to earning the SDP the endorsement of Nigerians. I say the endorsement of Nigerians because those who sat in Ladi Kwali hall and endorsed the SDP last week (penultimate) Thursday as the third platform to be used to usher in a credible and people-oriented government in 2019.
Do you enjoy the backing of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, being the most prominent advocate of a third force?
As far as the SDP is concerned, we have been using the words ‘third force’ all along. Even now, in some of our write-ups, our national chairman has continued to use ‘third force’, saying we are the third force. So, it is not because (former) General Obasanjo mentioned in the past few weeks that the words ‘third force’ is coming to the vocabulary of Nigerians. It has always been our watchword since the appearance of the SDP. But all the same, I would not say we don’t enjoy the backing of (former) President Obasanjo, though he has not come out openly (to express support for SDP). But I can confirm to you that at all the meetings that led to the emergence of the SDP as the adopted third force; some of the members of Obasanjo’s coalition were there. The National Intervention Movement — Dr. Jahlil Tafawa-Balewa; the South-West Coordinator of the NIM, Dr. Olu Agunloye, and so on — were there. Then, you have Sani Garba, who is a staunch member of the coalition; he was there. In fact, he gave the closing remarks.
In Chief Obasanjo’s organisation, members were present and I think it won’t be wrong if I say that the organisation was represented at the endorsement ceremony of the SDP. The organisation has not made an open declaration but we have a lot of them coming. Very soon, when we are stabilised, one by one, the organisations will visit the party secretariat and make open declarations. It is a mass movement that we have now; the SDP has become like a mass movement in Nigeria. Since that weekend when the adoption took place, so many people have been trooping into this party. The traffic of new members has become so high and it has never happened in the history of Nigeria.
In fact, yesterday (Tuesday), a chieftain of the APC in Adamawa State, Emma Bello, defected to the SDP. He is a former governorship aspirant and a former member of the House of Representatives. Similarly, today (Wednesday), about seven former commissioners in Minna (Niger State) had discussions with me, and that is what is happening all over the country. In the next few weeks, you will see a great surprise. You will see the influx of progressive-minded Nigerians into the SDP; not from the political class alone but even from civil society organisations, youths and even market women.
Are the governors and senators all from one party?
No. For the first time, let me make it a bit clear: For the governors, three are from the PDP and two are from the APC. That is the most I can say. I have not mentioned this to any correspondent. For the senators, they are mixed and, as of this morning, our contacts in the National Assembly informed me that people have signified their interest and they have advised on what we should do again. By the time we finish all the arrangements, I assure you that the SDP will become the majority in the National Assembly before the election, and I am sure of what I am telling you. It is the truth. People have come to discover that there is the need for a third force. The PDP has disappointed Nigerians and Nigerians. In the quest for a change, they went for the APC, believing that it would be the Messiah they were waiting for. Regrettably, the PDP was like Egypt, where the Jews were enslaved. And it was like the APC took Nigerians to the wilderness and abandoned them. So, Nigerians now are at a crossroads, whether to go back to slavery or remain in the wilderness.. The SDP is, therefore, the vehicle that will drive Nigerians to the Promised Land, insha’Allah.
Are the defectors from the same region?
They are from different regions. This movement is about all the regions now. I was at Hot FM this morning. If you listened, you would have heard different calls coming in from Sokoto, Katsina, Calabar and so on. It is a mass movement. What is happening now can be likened to a football. You know the best time to unite Nigerians is during football. Another source of unity for Nigerians now would be the SDP. Nigerians will be united in the manner they are united during football (matches). The SDP’s quest is to drive Nigerians to the Promised Land.
Which presidential candidate will you put forward to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari?
We have not got to that level, but we assure you that not only presidential aspirants, we will educate the delegates in all the primaries. We will educate every Nigerian that is involved in elections on the need to vote and elect credible and competent candidates because that is the first source of problems. When you elect people that are not competent, you run into problems. There are people who are already going around signifying interest, but we have not reached that level now. When the party is stabilised, everybody is allowed to aspire but the delegates will decide. We will offer a level playing field to everyone, but I can assure you that by the end of the day, we shall be guided by the imperative of credibility and competence in the choice of the leaders that will lead Nigeria from 2019. That is very important and I can assure that that is what will happen. There will not be sentiment this time around. Nobody will be elected based on sentiments. No! You will be elected based on your integrity and your capacity to perform.
How will your party deal with the problem of contamination from the mass movement of the same old opportunistic defectors?
It is not as if there are no credible, progressive-minded people in other parties. Also, it does not mean that everybody that moves into the SDP is interested in contesting elections. Some people are only desirous of a Nigeria that everybody can be proud of. Some people are only interested in helping to enthrone a credible leader. So, it is not everybody that wants to conduct the election. The major concern of the majority of people is to have good government where you can go to your house and sleep with your two eyes closed; where you can go to your village and celebrate Christmas without fear of being kidnapped; where your son will graduate from the university and have a job that he can be proud of. These are what so many people want. And how many elective positions are there to contest compared to the volume of people moving to the party? So, it is not an issue.
Prof. Jerry Gana was a minister and all of us know that he performed creditably. So, it does not matter whether every government engages him. You cannot remove the popularity from Prof. Gana in the Nigerian politics; you cannot divorce him from the politics of the Middle Belt. So, he is an electoral asset to any party. He was a founding member of the PDP; the same goes for Prof. (Tunde) Adeniran. When people like Prof. Gana and Prof. Adeniran leave a party, the soul of that party is gone.