Mr. Laolu Akande is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, and Spokesperson to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. In this interview on “Have Your Say” programme monitored on the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Akande speaks on the Vice President and his chances in the 2023 presidential elections.
What was the Vice President’s reaction when he heard that other aspirants met with Mr. President, telling him that they want to also contest for President?
The President is the leader of the party, that is how it should be. It is an open contest and that is the reason why the Vice President entered the race. He (VP) wants to be able to move very quickly to build on the foundation that the President has laid. He has been the Vice President for seven years and has done an excellent job for both the President and the people. He is the frontrunner, and I have no doubt in my mind that he will clinch the ticket next week Monday.
There has been a lot of concerns in the media and reactions that the APC might be settling for a consensus candidate and the identity of this candidate. Is it possible that it would be the Vice President?
I think that is the question for the party to answer. The rule of law in the country says a political party can do direct primary; that’s when all the card-carrying members of the party can vote for their candidate in the party election; indirect primary, where delegates are chosen or elected who will then go into voting for the flagbearer of the party; or the consensus option, where the party will come together and agree on the best candidate to represent the party at the Presidential election. All these options are open and it is left for the party to decide on which option to be adopted.
Whichever option the party chooses to adopt, the Vice President has clearly distinguished himself, not only by the heart and commitment he has for the Nigerian people, but also by the experience and capacity that he has gained and demonstrated so far. The Vice President has shown that he is the best fit for the job. We have gone to 36 states for engagements with APC delegates, and in most of the states, he met the traditional rulers who also gave him their royal blessings. He met with other stakeholders, governors, deputy governors and the delegates themselves.
Like one of the royal fathers, the Deji of Akure, said, in other parts of the world, if a sitting Vice President is interested in becoming the President after his boss finishes his tenure, it will just be that everybody in their political party will support him. So very clearly, everyone has the understanding that the Vice President is the front runner because of what he has done and what the President has also exposed him to. He is best prepared to take this country to the next level and I believe that is what is going to happen regardless of the option the party adopts.
Looking at the politics emanating from the Southwest where the VP comes from; about a few weeks ago, there was a meeting to decide who should go into the primary, do you see the Vice President getting the full support of Southwest?
The meeting you are referring to is the one that was called by the APC leaders in the Southwest, chaired by former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande and former governor of Ogun State, Aremo Segun Osoba. The conclusion of that meeting is that all the Southwest presidential aspirants should conduct themselves and their campaigns with humility, courtesy, and ensure that everybody is going to work together whatever the eventuality is.
The Vice President has gone to all the states, met with every delegate, stakeholder and he did not just give speeches; he interacted with them by stepping down from the high table, and going down to meet them one on one, encouraging them to ask questions, which they all did and he answered those questions. He exchanged ideas with them and they shared the common vision for a great Nigeria, and the aspiration as Nigerians and members of the party. This shows clearly that he is someone who is willing and ready to build a huge coalition that is interested in taking Nigeria to the next level and actualizing that potential of a great country that we all know does exist. That is why we are very confident that he is the best candidate for the party to put forward.
Recently, the APC presidential primary has been postponed twice. Would you say that there are challenges for the APC at choosing a candidate
No, I don’t think there are challenges. We have quite a number of aspirants that have shown up in this race. APC is a progressive party; what that means is that we are people who are united in the belief that government ought to serve the people, government ought to deliver to the people, look at the practical conditions of the people and see what else can be done to improve on it, impact and transform the social conditions of the people; and this is what the party has built on in the last seven years with programmes like the National Social Investment Programmes, which has become reknowned as the largest social investment programme in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Huge infrastructural developments have been taking place- the Second Niger Bridge is due for completion this year, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is up and running, the Bonny-Bodo Road and bridges are in progress, the railway revolution, the Abuja-Kaduna rail is up and running; works on Lagos-Kano, Maiduguri-Calabar lines are ongoing. You have somebody who was the Vice President when all of these were happening, he is the one that knows the exactly next thing to do and how to do it because he has seen how these things were done. So, when he gets there, by the grace of God, he will hit the ground running and deliver the dividends of democracy to the Nigeria people.
Talking about politics in the opposition party, the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, recently emerged as the flag-bearer of the party; do you see this ruffling feather in the APC based on the fact that he used to be in the APC?
What I can tell you is that; very clearly, all the candidates in the APC will defeat any politician in the PDP or any other political party in Nigeria very easily. In terms of delivering social goods to the people, Nigerians already know which party has them at heart, it doesn’t matter who the opposition party gives the ticket to. As you know, our party has defeated them before and we will do it again.
The Vice President is also a pastor, a cleric; does it occasionally become a challenge for him to carry out his task as Vice President, especially in the political environment where there are a lot of political missiles?
As a pastor, he is the salt that brings the good taste, although it might be hot or challenging, but he has the passion for the people. He connects and resonates with the people and also develops ideas with the people. Whether he is a pastor, teacher, professor, adviser, commissioner, or vice president, it is the same thing that is driving Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; and that is service to the people, commitment, showing capacity and strength.
Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has also proven that he is a unifier. The Special Adviser on NSIP is a Muslim from Kano State; the Special Adviser on Infrastructure, Mr. Ahmad Rufai Zakari, is also a Muslim from Jigawa; Special Adviser on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojudu from Ekiti is a Muslim. Among others who are Senior Special Assistants are; Dr. Balkisu Saidu, who is an associate professor of Law from the University of Sokoto.
The Vice President has more than 41% female staff working for him and more than 50% of his staffers are under the age of 40. When he recently went to Kaduna state to meet the delegates, Governor Nasir El Rufai said that the Vice President is a truly detribalised Nigerian; that even though he is a pastor; he is a friend to Sheikhs and Imams. When we went to Bauchi state, Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi was very glad to receive him. He said some wonderful things about him. The Khalifah Tijaniyya, Sheikh Ibrahim, is very close to him. There are several Imams who he interacts with on a daily basis, despite him being a pastor.
Whether you are a Muslim or Christian, whether you are from the North or South, Prof.Yemi Osinbajo brings everybody together and the idea of him being a unifier is well-known and well established to the Nigerian people. And as President, by the grace of God, these are the kind of attributes and nation building efforts that we are going to see.
There have been insinuations that there might be conflict of interest between national leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo against 2023. Do you see this becoming a crack in the party or affecting the chances of the Vice President emerging?
There is no conflict at all; we are all progressives. All the aspirants are all members of the party. The primary is a family affair and whoever emerges becomes the candidate of the party and everyone is going to work together for the success of the party.
After the emergence of the Vice President as the President come 2023, what are his aims and objectives, what plans does he have for the common man?
The Vice President wants to complete many of the good works that this administration has started. For example, the unprecedented infrastructural development that has happened in the last 7 years under President Buhari, we will finish it. All the rail projects across this country will be completed and connected. There are roads in every state that are very critical and they are under the federal government’s supervision and sponsorship.
Indeed, there are areas of challenges that we are working on continuously on a daily basis, but there are wonderful things that have happened, such as the second Niger bridge, Lagos – Ibadan express way, Abuja-Kaduna and Lagos-Kano, amongst others. We also have the Social Investment Programmes, where we were able to engage about four schemes that benefited Nigerians. We had the N-Power programme where we engaged over 500,000 youths where they were paid 30,000 for two years after which the President asked that it should be increased to 1 million, and that is where we are now.
In the Vice President’s declaration speech, he said that he will elevate and upscale the Social Investment Programmes to a full-scale welfare system. That means more people will be impacted in the programme and what we have done so far, especially between 2016 and 2019 when it was under the Vice President, we were able to impact over 12 million Nigerians. When it becomes a full-scale welfare system, it is going to be much more because we are going to put more resources into it. It will become part of the system and Nigerians can expect more.
If eventually the President calls for a consensus among the candidates, will the Vice President be comfortable with that?
I have already said it before that whatever the party decides, we are going to be okay with it because the Vice President has shown very clearly – and we all know that he has the love of the people but more than that, he has proven that he is the one that has the best experience for the job, whether is a consensus candidate, primary or indirect primary- the Vice President is okay.
Some say the Vice President made a mistake by saying if he is elected asresident, he will continue from where President Buhari stopped. Why didn’t he talk more of (himself as) the vice president?
We will talk about the Vice President, but we cannot deny some of the good things that have happened. Many Nigerians benefited from the N-Power and other programmes under the Social Investment Programmes.
We also have the Survival Fund where salaries were paid for 3 months to people who were directly impacted by the shutdown such as drivers, artisans, teachers etc. The Survival Fund was provided under the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), which the President asked the Vice President to develop and coordinated, under the direction of the President, during the COVID-19 pandemic that affected the economy. It was well implemented to the extent that Nigeria was among countries that came out of recession earliest according to the World Bank. There are a lot of good things that this government has done and the programmes will be continued by the Vice President.
The Vice President is prepared, this is well known to Nigerians; he is capable, loyal, both to the President and to the nation. He is connected to the people and he will, by the grace of God, win the election. The point I want to make here is that; there is work to do and the Vice President is prepared, able and ready to take that work forward.
Also, when you look at what is happening in the technology sector of the economy, many people are not paying attention, but let me tell you; we have at least six (6) big technology firms that are valued at 1billion dollars each (Unicorns), because of the policy of this administration. We have the likes of Piggyvest, Interswitch, Opay, Andela, Flutterwave and others. They have become billion-dollar companies and they are now bigger in values than many banks in Nigeria even though, there have been two recessions since 2016. This is because of how the regulations that affected them were tweaked by this administration; and we have seen that we can expand and enlarge this in the technology space to bring a lot of young people and settle the problem of unemployment. These are some of the things that the Vice President is going to pay a lot of attention to.
We remember when the Vice President led delegations of Nigerian businesses in the entertainment, creativity and technology sectors to Silicon Valley in the United States where he met with Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and all their executives. I also remembered that the Google executives came back and said, as a matter of fact, that they will come to Nigeria because of the vision the Vice President has shown towards expanding the technology sector and the understanding he has demonstrated in that sector. Already, we have Facebook and Google doing big things in Nigeria, which are going to expand soon. We are going to get more of it and make sure that the issue of unemployment is dealt with because the opportunities are there.
Nigerian youths are talented and hardworking, so there is no reason why we won’t transform this country. The President, in the last years, has already established the foundation, the next thing to do is to begin to build on it, and that is what the Vice President is going to do.
Fundamental to good governance is strict and speedy execution of justice without bias. As a professor of law, what will the Vice President do differently to reduce the rate at which people take laws into their own hands?
Osinbajo is somebody that fears God and I think it is a big advantage for anybody that wants to lead the people properly. That is what you need as a person who will not treat people differently, somebody who gives everybody a fair chance, somebody who makes sure that we have a country where everybody has a sense of belonging; and I think being a God-fearing person allows us to have that kind of confidence and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is a God-fearing person.
One of the things that we have started are the judicial reforms. If you remember in 1988, the Vice President, then Professor of law, was appointed as a Special Adviser to the Attorney General of the Federation, Prince Bola Ajibola. I think 11 years after (in 1999); he became Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos. The point is that he has been involved in the areas of trying to ensure justice through the judicial reforms.
The Judicial reforms that he put in Lagos between 1999 and 2007 have become the model in virtually every State in this country. It is now being adopted and considered at the federal level. This is one of the things he actually mentioned in his declaration speech; that there would be judicial reforms and that any act of lawlessness will be condemned. We are going to make sure that judges are properly taken care of and make sure things change in that sector and justice remains the act of governance.
Some say the economy is driving many homes into poverty. What would be done differently if the Vice President becomes the next President?
On poverty and the economy, the President has actually set a target that we want to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. What the Vice President is going to be doing is to coordinate the approach to carry this out and this is something that is very important to the Vice President. That is why if you ask the Vice President what the most important thing he wants to do, I am very sure he will say the first thing to do is job creation, jobs and more jobs.
When we create jobs and when the economy creates more jobs, the issue of poverty is going to be diminished, by the grace of God. So, very clearly, he does have the mindset, passion, preparation, capacity and the character to deliver all of these things to Nigerian people.
What will the Vice President do about the issue of insecurity if elected as President?
On the issue of insecurity, what this administration has found out is that we do need to ramp up our security architecture. We need more soldiers, more policemen, because these are very delicate, specialized security sectors. It will take a bit of time to train the people and increase the numbers. This is one of the most important things that is happening and we will ensure that this is done. We will ensure that we can manufacture more of our arms and ammunitions. We are also going to be using more of technology, which is the plan of the President, with the support of the Vice President, to ensure that we solve all of these problems. It is taking a bit of time because of the nature of that sector, but diligent efforts are ongoing, to ensure that we have strong security architecture.
What are your final words as we wrap up this interview?
It is the intention of the Vice President to serve this country as President and to serve very well by working with people, building a partnership that will transform this country, that is what he wants to do to build on the wonderful foundation that the President has laid in eight (8) years because he knows what is happening, he knows what the problems are, he knows the next thing to be done, he is the best man for the job and we give you the guarantee that when he gets there, Nigerians will know that indeed, the right person has come to take this country forward.
Credit to Leadership