Donald Duke, a former Governor of Cross River State, is the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), one of Nigeria’s opposition party. He was in Kano recently to compare notes with his running mate, Dr Junaid Mohammed and to meet with the party stakeholders in the Northwest region. In the exclusive interview with Saturday Sun, he outlines reasons Nigerians should vote for him ahead of the candidates of the All Progressives Congress, Muhammadu Buhari and his counterpart in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. He spoke to Desmond Mgboh.
You are welcome to Kano State and I think that for a start, I should ask you why are you in Kano State? Certainly, this is not your base?
I will say that it is part of the states that I intend to win in the forthcoming 2019 elections but on a serious note, I am in Kano to meet with our party leadership, including my running mate, Dr. Junaid Mohammed and other stalwarts of my party. Kano is very pivotal in our strategy for the next elections.
The election is very close now, issues are coming up from different directions but basically, why do you think Nigerians should vote for you and not President Buhari or Atiku?
I don’t know how much you know about the pulse of Nigerians today- North, South East and West.There is a general disenchantment in our country today – the rich, the poor, the not-too rich , the not- too- poor- they all feel that we can do better than we have been doing. In the last 20 years or thereabout, we have experienced the PDP and it was roundly rejected in 2015 because it was squandering our national resources; so the people roundly rejected a party that had, at one time, almost 30 of the 36 governors, reducing that to about 20 governors and now, it is about 9 or so governors. And thereafter, a lot of hopes were placed on the APC and the reputation of President Muhammadu Buhari. Three years into his administration, we are back to the way we felt in 2015. The issues he ran on – corruption, security have not abated. The country is as corrupt , if not more corrupt. The security situation has not improved . If anything , we are all learning to live with it as part of our lives now. So, those two planks upon which he ran are not being fulfilled, but more than that, the poverty is exacerbating. Recently, it was reported that Nigeria has the largest concentration of poor people in the world. Even during the days of the PDP, it was not that bad. And it is only going to get worse. Our population today is 200 million and it is growing. There are no plans to get Nigeria working so that the teeming millions of unemployed would find jobs. So if you look at it, if you take all the indices, we are not doing well. We have tried the PDP and we have tried the APC and we have found out that they are just different sides of the same coin. The actors freely flow between both sides. If you look at the actors in APC today, at one time or the other, they were in PDP. And the actors in PDP today, at one time or the other, were in APC. But more importantly, there is no new entrants. If you don’t breed and nurture the next generation, whether you like it or not, they would take over but they would take over ill-prepared. So, we felt that we should have a platform that would change the narrative of Nigeria and that is all the SDP is all about.
In quite a number of states, your presence is very minimal compared to the other big parties. How do you intend to overcome this?
Very true, we are a new party than they are but the quality of people we are going to put forward, I think will work in our favor. Nigerians are beginning to understand that it is not the party that matters; it is the person that matters. We know that the failure of this administration is squarely on the statecraft of Muhammadu Buhari. And the same thing with PDP. So these parties, as you see them, are platforms. What is critical is that you put forth the right people or candidates who the people have confidence in. So, if I put someone forward in Kano, how is he perceived in Kano? Gone are the days when you put anybody and because he is carrying or flying a flag of a particular party, he will be voted for. Those days are gone now, people are wiser. We politicians always underrate the electorate or what we like to call the grassroots. But the grass is where we step on every time, so they know better where it hurts. They are wiser. And I am not being overtly optimistic here, but I think that if the party should position itself strongly as an organization that is ready to lead the country, we would make the difference. If I were holding the tape and should ask if you are happy with the APC, your likely answer is NO, If I ask you if you were happy with the PDP, your likely answer is No. if you are not happy with both parties, wouldn’t you seek an alternative.
The cost of the Presidential election in Nigeria is huge; it cost real money; how are you going to cope with the challenge of finance ahead of the polls?
If it was money, Jonathan would still be the President of Nigeria today. I think that for every one Naira APC spent, he spent N10. There is a certain amount of money, after which it becomes meaningless. We have exaggerated the amount of money that is required in an election because a lot of people also feed off it. You can run a prudent election and you wouldn’t spend that much. We are going to do that and we shall do that.
Have you thought about the fact that quite a lot of the people you have in the SDP today were in the APC or PDP. What new things are they bringing to the party? Are they just migrating because somebody has offended them? Or they are coming to you because they believe in your vision.
Well, you know that in our politics, you cannot stop anyone from joining any platform. What we can influence are those we put forward and in any case, you are not going to have a party of saints. It does not make sense. If it is a party, it connotes that everybody and anybody can be a member. But we would try and screen those we put forward. We are working on a mechanism where we would try and put our best forward, which is one of the things that is lacking in Nigeria.
What is your take on the security situation in the country?
The biggest challenge we have in Nigeria is poverty. Poverty is so endemic that it breeds insecurity. The North Eastern part of our nation, where you have Boko Haram holding sway is also the poorest part and that is why they can hold sway. But where people have hope , where people have something to live for, extremism never comes their way. People don’t burgle houses any more, they now kidnap because they feel that the returns from that is now more than burgling houses. If you look at all our problems, if you are able to create an economy that would employ the vast number of our people, engage them meaningfully, then all our problems would disappear. Our problems are not ethnic, our problems are not religious. But where there is inadequacy, we are going to use what we have to get what we don’s have . If we don’t have enough here, I will start discriminating against you to my advantage. No one is more religious than the other. But because we don’t have enough, we start playing Christianity against Islam. And if you are neither, they say you are an atheist or the other. When they talk zoning- which is an unconstitutional thing- you zone to the North and even in the North, they say oh! zone it to the North East or the Middle Belt. It is all trying to take advantage. So, you need to deal with poverty issue. It is a big, big problem. You cannot have a nation as large as Nigeria- 200 million of them and three quarter of them are so poor. It is a danger.
Can you trust INEC having recourse to a couple of elections lately in Ekiti, Osun?
INEC is a Nigerian organisation and is subject to the frailties of the Nigeria circumstance. But we have no other organization to work with. So, we need to encourage them, police them and ensure that they do the right thing because we politicians also are the problem. But if you have the mass of the people with you, those excesses that you find could be curbed. That is all we have to work with and we have to make it work to the overall advantage of every Nigerian.
How do you think that the coming polls would be better than the conduct of the 2015 elections?
Elections are all about national consciousness. When you have the citizens appropriately primed, knowing that it is a civic responsibility and that whoever you put in the office would determine the quality of the life you would lead, then people would take it more seriously. I have been advocating that we should have a system of government where we have elections every two years, so that we stagger it – so every two years the people go to the polls. Two things would happen. Every two years, the electorate get wiser and better and the system of election would also get better because we are learning. This four year thing where every four years, we all go and the whole country stands on a standstill is not really for me the best. Even if it means an amendment that allows the National Assembly an extra two years, so that it dovetails… so we have election more frequently, so be it. Because right now, it is like an event and the nation comes to a standstill; it is not the best. Maybe, we should have one where the legislative house have theirs in between so that you can constantly monitor the mood of the public vis a vis governance. You know in the United States, they have what they call the mid-term elections and the midterm elections is really a referendum on how well the executive has been doing for that period. Every two years, Americans go for the polls.They are smarter for it because each time you go to the polls… INEC is getting better. The INEC you have today is better than what we had in 1999 but it is not there yet. We also need to ensure that both sides, the electorate and the referees at INEC, are getting better. We should also introduce technology into it because that forestalls manipulation.