Fouad Oki is a known name when it comes to party politics in Lagos State. A former Vice Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State and a strong member of the party in the southwest region and Nigeria. He is one of those jostling to become the next Chairman of the party in Saturday’s state congress. In this explosive interview with The Gazelle News.com’s EDITORIAL TEAM, Oki said the era of someone deciding who leads the party is gone, and that party members should be allowed to elect their leaders and take ownership of the party. He promised to address impunity which is now the hallmark of Lagos APC, and as well create 300,000 jobs for party members in 90 days upon assumption of office. He also spoke on the support of the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola for his ambition, lack of a database of members, among others.
Q: You are aspiring to become the Chairman of APC in Lagos State. You are believed to be a kingmaker and so it is a surprise to many that you are throwing your hat in the ring. What has changed?
A: Please know one thing very clear. I will never accept the title of a kingmaker. It is only God that makes kings. No man can make any king. No one will ascribe that to me and I will not take any title of such. I have never been one and will never be one. I am not a kingmaker. Only God makes a king. Yes, I aspire to lead our party; I aspire to lead our party for very obvious reasons. Today, our party is comatose. Our party is bleeding and bleeding profusely too, and we must understand that our party requires a surgical procedure to take it back to its preeminent status of a progressive family. Our party needs very clearly today what I called the three “Rs’; a process of rehabilitation, a process of reconstruction, and more importantly to bring together everyone that has been taken or shut out of the party’s window.
The party today needs leadership with a new direction and that is all I offer – unity, unity, and unity. Today our party has not been this divided. Unfortunately, Lagos political system was founded on a progressive model which gives everybody a sense of inclusion. Unfortunately today, our party lacks that and that is what I am aspiring to do; to lead a party where no one would be left out or shut out; where unity would be the order of the day; where leadership is born out of integrity, and capacity would hold sway. That is all I aspire to do. I want our people to come together again.
Q: You alluded to the fact that APC in Lagos is fragmented. What, in your view, is responsible for this?
A: The party is not fragmented; there is no party today in Lagos. It is when you have a party that you begin to talk about being fragmented. We don’t have a party and we need one to support our government. Impunity has gotten us to this state and lack of respect for rule of law. We stopped respecting our own rules, and that is why we found ourselves where we are today and we create this sense of godfatherism believing that you can be nothing unless some people make you; where we have the situation of monkey dey work baboon dey chop. That is what we have and that is what caused the problems where today thousands and thousands who believe so much in the ideals of progressivism are made to work and sacrifice for the party, and then the party would have a government that would shut the windows of opportunity against its own members.
Let me shock you with this; Lagos is one of the five cities in the world where you are not welcomed but where you are told this is it; where you are availed with opportunities for you to thrive. Do you want to know why people are coming to Lagos? It is in wanting to seek greener pastures and wanting to take advantage of the opportunities that have been availed to them. So, there is no welcome to Lagos; it is this is Lagos and you know why it is so? It is a land of opportunity but unfortunately, that opportunity has been shut out. What ought to be an opportunity for all has become an opportunity for a few; that is what we have. We must change it. Lagos has 6.4million registered voters. Since the creation of Lagos State; it was only Tunde Fashola (SAN), my brother and our leader of the structure which people are looking for; I’m talking about the structure of people who subscribe to transparency, inclusion, integrity, and above all empathy. Since his re-election in 2011 where our party recorded close to a 1.6million votes, successive elections have not recorded a million vote mark. Rather, we are just gliding down the hill, receding, unfortunately. That is what is happening. 2018/2019 primaries and general election results are there for you to interrogate where at the primaries, the winner of that contest recorded close to a million votes and at the general elections got less than 600,000 votes.
Look at the just-concluded Local Government shenanigan; the total number of votes recorded for our party was less than 580,000 including voided votes when in fact we claimed to have 2.5million voters. Are we saying that 1.9million members of the party did not come out to vote? Possibly! Possibly because they were either shut out of the process or not given the opportunity to exercise their franchise. This is the problem and this must change. This is my determination hence my promise to bring back unity to the fold; to promise to lead by example with integrity and to show the capacity that I can. And people know it, my record speaks for itself. I have the pedigree; I have the antecedents; I have always been there for the party. I don’t think today that anyone in the party would allude to a fact real or imaginary that I do not have the capacity or I lack the integrity or that I do not know what it takes or what it requires to give a turnaround to our party. And you know another thing I am bringing on board – friendship and network.
Today, I make bold to say that at our party in Lagos State, I’m one of the very very few bridge builders. I have built bridges across the divide. North, East, West, South, I have built bridges all over. And you see, to take our party forward, you need somebody who is a unifier; you need a builder of bridges who knows who is where; who can get people to work with; who can get support and cooperation for others. We are approaching the on-season where there will be a need for consultations and negotiations in order to bring home the much-sought southwest candidacy or candidature. You also need somebody who understands this terrain and I make bold to say I do; I make bold to say I can; and I am promising that if given the chance and elected as Chairman of our party, that is what I will do.
Q: Some party members see you as someone that is rebellious. How would you react to that?
A: Well, I am. I am very very rebellious but on the positive side. I am rebellious against impunity; I am rebellious against people trampling on the rule of law; I am rebellious against oppression; I am rebellious on the side of the people; on the side of those who toiled day and night to have a party that should work for all. Yes, and you know what, for me, it’s in my DNA. Those who know my father, F.A Oki will tell you about my father that he was a very very rebellious lawyer on the side of the people.
My great grandfather was rebellious too. He led what today has become political development with the establishment of Ilu Committee in 1909. The great Herbert Macaulay was not a member of Ilu Committee. He was not even the secretary. He was an interpreter and recorder for Ilu Committee. It was established by Habibu Ajao Oki. He was the President of Ilu Committee. Go and interrogate that.
Unfortunately, people wanting to rewrite history write the political development of Nigeria without mentioning Ilu Committee nor acknowledge the role of Habibu Oki and others. So, I am just a reincarnate of Habibu Oki standing by the people; standing for the people; ensuring that there is inclusion, and believing very well that there is a need for our party to become what it is desired to be.
Q: Apart from all you have mentioned, what other innovations are you bringing on board if elected as Chairman?
A: Let me tell you today, unfortunately, part of the problems we have in Nigeria is our refusal to understand or subscribe to one fact that political parties are associations. You cannot be a member of an association if you are not financial. Today, we have political parties where members do not contribute anything in the matters of how the party is run and funded. Rather, we have come to believe unfortunately in an illusion that some moneybags must fund the party. No! And that is why the majority of members of the party don’t have a voice.
I will ensure that party members have voices by taking ownership of their party; by contributing to how their party is funded and managed. I intend to ensure first and foremost that our party is an enabler of economic and commercial activity. Let me shock you, if elected as chairman, within three months of assumption of office, our party will employ internally over 300,000 workers in various levels of party administration and management. We must take a look at the ANC model of fund-raising. Now, Americans call it crowdfunding. We will not crowd-fund for the party, we would get members of the party to take ownership and fund their party not relying on the government.
Within the first three weeks, I will energize employment of 130,000 party members at 10 members per polling unit which in itself will be the beginning of mobilization, advocacy, and engagement of Lagosians to begin to believe in our party and be ready to vote for us at the next general election. I am a man that says and fulfills my pledge and so if elected, I can promise Lagosians and sign an undertaking that if I am unable to give our party a minimum of 3million votes in 2023, I will resign. I know where the votes are; I know how to reach out to the votes. We must stimulate the economic activities in supporting our party to stimulate and generate employment not directly but indirectly and I know where it is. These are the issues. We are a party of and for prosperity and we should be seen doing that and that is all I aspire to do – to bring about unity, create inclusion and inclusiveness, support our government, and ensure that we also stimulate economic activity. If there is any time to do so, it is this time. Do you know why? When there is adversity, there is always a small window of opportunity. It is only those who can perceive, who can decipher where the window is.
I have seen the window; I know where the window is and all I want to do is to create that opportunity for our people to latch on. We are in a social, economic, and governance adversity. But there is a window beckoning on us to come and open it to create wealth and prosperity. This is the time, no other time. In the time of adversity, you create opportunity and that is what we are talking about.
Q: An average citizen would be like how will the party fund the employment you are talking about?
A: It is not about the party funding it. You see, there is something called the value chain. In the economic sphere, you look at what I said. In a period of adversity that we have, there is always a window of opportunity. I have seen that window; I know what is required; I know what we can do within our party. Listen, our party doesn’t need to go cap in hand begging for funds to run its affairs. Our party should be innovative enough to create wealth not relying on the government, or somebody or a few individual moneybags to come to fund the party programs.
When I was Vice Chairman of the party, people in Lagos Central Senatorial District can allude to the fact that I was creating windows of opportunities.
Unfortunately, today do you know that our party does not have a central database or profile of its members with the view to supporting or assisting them? Do you know that members of our party are involved in every sphere of human endeavor from bricklaying to farm work, to artifacts, in the build-up environment, and so on? We are not helping our members to acquire skills required in the 21st century; skills that will give them gainful employment and so on. We are not involved in any vocational skills development not even in commerce. Our party lacks the capacity or ability to understand how to devise a pro-poor system; our party cannot even interpret its party manifesto, unfortunately.
These are the things I am talking about and they want me to sign an undertaking that if in 90 days I do not generate 300,00 employment, I will resign. In one year, if I don’t have a database of new party supporters that are willing to support our party at the next general election with a view to giving our party a minimum of 3million votes, I will resign. Hold me on to this.
Q: The belief is that some chieftains of the party particularly Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, are behind your ambition to become the party chairman in Lagos. How would you react to that?
Well, the issue is does the Minister of Works and Housing have a choice? No! Because I am offering what he believes in. He will support me not because of my filial relationship but because he believes in what I am talking about. And it is not just him; I have so many that I will not mention. It takes us back to the issue of Abuja boys. It is about people believing in the need for unity; believing in the need for inclusion; believing that nobody should be left behind.
So, when people say is he supporting me, I ask the question back does he have a choice not to support me when we share a common ideology; when we share a common aspiration in seeking the best for our people. And it is not just him. Several others including those who believe that Lagos must work and want to support Lagos to work. Those who believe that Lagos is the big brother and that when Lagos provides leadership, that leadership will transcend the southwest.
There is a need for us to look for unity. It has to start from home. After all, charity begins at home. It should not be about selection; it should not be about somebody who is in slumber sleeping in his room being called to say come you are the next to be crowned. No! It is about people coming out to say I want to offer myself for service. And that is what I am doing; offering myself; telling my people what I have to offer. Whoever that is desirous of running for the office of the Chairman of our party in Lagos State should come out to tell the world what you want to do; let people have an opportunity to see what you are offering; to know you and not waiting for either an individual or a few select people to decide that it is you and nothing will come of it. So, that is all that we are saying.
Q: You have described yourself as a bridge-builder. How far have you gone in terms of reaching out to those who are currently aggrieved with the way and manner the APC is being administered in Lagos?
A: Those are the people I was talking about when I mention the three “Rs’. We need to rehabilitate everyone in the party either those on the right side, the left side, or in the middle. We must first rehabilitate the party by giving the party a proper direction.
When you rehabilitate it, you now begin to reconstruct the party in the minds of our people because today our party is the least popular party in the state.
You must understand that over 85 percent of our party members are aggrieved in one way or the other. Some are crying that they have been shut out of the window; some are crying that they are not being included hence they do not have a direction or a sense of it. They talk to me at all levels; at the highest level; at the middle level; at the lowest level of our party system. They talk to me and I speak with them regularly. I have a database of our members and where they are; I am engaging with them. I held a webinar recently with over a thousand members and they have started subscribing to it. They want to hear from me and I also want to take directions from them on how to approach the reconstruction, the rehabilitation of our party and its members.
What we have today in our party is what I call the graveyard silence. That is what is happening and some people understand it and that is why they are trying to shift the goal post and they are only going to shift the doomsday. That is why today because some people are crying that they are not included; you want to give them party chairman; they are not asking for party chairman but asking for Governor. So, if you cannot give them Governor; you don’t say you will give them party chairman. So, you want to take it to the west and look for an Awori man. No!
That is not what the party members want; that is not what Lagosians want. All they are asking for is a round peg in a round hole. That is all they are asking for; they are not asking that you put a round peg in square holes. They want the party to present the best that can possibly do the job and I believe very much that I fit that bill.