DONALD Duke, SDP presidential candidate in an interview with Channels television on Friday, January 25, after his court victory, said despite the party’s loss of campaign time, they would still project their ideas to gain Nigerians support.
CHANNELS: As at the time the first judgment came through, you were quoted severally as saying that you were sure that the appellate court was going to reach a decision that reinforces the levels of our constitution. What gave you the assurance that that was going to be the case?
DUKE: Our lawyer and this is basic strike laws that my constitutional rights cannot be abridged. What the law court did abridged my constitutional rights. The party has no right over constitutional offices. What the party could zone freely is its offices. For instance, a party could say that the chairman or the national chairman must come from a certain section of the country and so be it. If its rectified at the convention that’s fine but you cannot strike law. You cannot give what you don’t have. You cannot rule over or administer what is not yours and therefore the party cannot zone an office that is purely constitutional. The appeal court made that succinctly clear, yesterday.
CHANNELS: Can that be at best described as a political judgement?
DUKE: What happened at the law court could be described as a political judgement. What happened at the appeal court was the interpretation of the law.
CHANNELS: The way it is now, there are some reports in the dailies this morning that Mr. Gana may approach the Supreme Court. Well, he may have his right to do that but doesn’t that suggest to you that the fact that they approached the court in the first instance, that some people in the party don’t support your candidature?
DUKE: Oh that’s normal. You couldn’t get a 100 percent support. It’s left for me to show leadership to bring them on board, to reach out to professor Gana and appeal to him that we ought to come together seeing the larger picture which is our party and the nation. I am doing that. I did that on the 7th of October. I will do it again. Leadership is conciliatory, working together and building bridges. He made me hurt. He made a strong view of his own points but it gets to a point where pursuing your interest works contrary to the larger interest and I think we have gotten to that point. We have 23 days to the election, it’s hardly enough time to espouse to sell our views to the nation. So we need to put our egos behind and look at the larger picture. This is what I hope Professor Gana, to whom I have tremendous respect for would abide by.
CHANNELS: What exactly happened within the party that informed this confusion in the first place? There were primaries most certainly, so what exactly happened and how come some elements in the political party would come with this kind of confusion that has robbed the entire political structure of campaign time?
DUKE: Well, you know politicians read meanings or have a way of interpreting what they want to do. This is the summary of it all. We went for primaries, we were all screened. Professor Gana is of the opinion that there is a section in the party’s constitution he is referring to that states that where the president comes from a section of the country, the national chairman should come from the opposite section of the country. The court ruled that that constitution did not guide the party’s convention that produced me as its candidate. That’s one. Two, I am not the president. I am a presidential candidate and three, the party cannot zone offices. That was what Professor Gana relied on. Like I said, we can go on and over this and go to the Supreme Court and get it all adjudicated upon but where are we going with this? We need to pull back the breaks and look forward.
CHANNELS: We have very few days to the elections and you have lost campaign time. Your party has lost campaign time, you have lost campaign time. What happens now? What are your chances?
DUKE: Well, as good as any other. I think there is quite a large size of undecided voters out there. You are right we have to hit the ground running hard. We have lost time but you know it’s an interesting country. You have what we call the two larger parties which are different sides of the same coin but most Nigerians are ill at ease with these parties and are looking for an alternative to both of them. We don’t have time to sell the views as much as we would have loved to but it doesn’t stop us from getting across because I think the last statistical evidence we had thereabout almost 68 percent of the voters are yet undecided about who they are going to align with. So we have to reach out to them. I admit there is a lot of work to be done and very little time but it can be done and we ought to try.
CHANNELS: You literally took your party to the court. What of kind of support do you expect from this same political party going forward?
DUKE: I did not take my party to the court. Professor Jerry Gana took the party to the court. He took the party alongside myself to the court. He took the party to the court on grounds that the party produced me as its candidate. So the party alongside myself appealed the decision of the law court that declared Professor Gana the candidate. But you know, I don’t know if you have been following the news. Overwhelmingly, the party has been supportive and has stood by the decision it took on the 6th of October. That’s all behind us now. I don’t want to belabour that. I have work to do not only to heal internal wounds but also appeal to the larger Nigerian population. So it’s not a question of who is right or who is wrong, it wasn’t the victory at the court yesterday. I’m not celebrating it. As far as I’m concerned, it was a needless foray into the theatrics of the law court. We can do better. We need to come together, heal our wound and mend the fences and move forward. So if we win, it’s a collective victory. Jerry Gana and I will celebrate the victory. if we lose, we will be at a total loss.
CHANNELS: And so in recent history, before the ruling party won the elections they were in oppositions, they had to pull as many other political parties together to achieve this particular fit. In the context of your chances of winning, do you think that your party can do this, having seen that the PDP is going to have a coalition with the CUPP and SDP appears to be standalone? Do you think you can sail through?
DUKE: The coalition of the CUPP is a coalition of one party, that’s the PDP. I don’t see any other party in that coalition. When in 2015 the parties came together it was largely just two runners and Buhari and the APC appeared new to the scene. Now, know that the players are interwoven and intertwined. There is hardly any difference between the PDP and the APC, like I said earlier they are different sides of the same coin. We want to position ourselves as an alternative and a viable one too. If you run you might lose but if you don’t you are guaranteed to lose so we are going to give it a shot.
CHANNELS: Let me get your thoughts on the withdrawal of Dr. Oby Ezekwesili of another party who has pulled out from the presidential race, who says also that she is planning to form a coalition with some other parties, hopefully your party will be a part of that but considering how she pulled out, do you see for instance say an Oby Ezekwesili putting up steam and aiding an SDP candidate like you in the build-up to the elections?
DUKE: You know politics is an inclusive game. Wherever support comes from we admit it. I don’t have the details on why she pulled out in the first place but I will welcome her support. I will welcome the support of everyone including President Buhari. We need to appreciate that what we have before us as a nation is disaster looming. we are really literally at the brink of the precipice. Here you have a nation, 200 million people that are living in abject poverty. In another thirty years, our population will double to 400 million people. If we are going through crisis literally security, corruption which are all symptoms of distrait, I shudder to think of what will be in another thirty years which is really around the corner. I reminded an audience yesterday that 40 years ago, President Shagari as in charge, we were budgeting annually 25 billion dollars. Today, we are 200 million and we are budgeting 23.8 billion dollars. So this is a shrinking economy with a blossoming population. The government says for instance that we are out of recession because the economy is growing at 1.2 or 1.3 percent. That’s hogwash. Your population is growing at 3.2% or thereabouts and your economy is growing at 1.2percent, you are still in recession. For you to get out of recession, your economy must be growing faster than your population is. Let me say this, because of the years of retrogression and neglect, we need to grow our economy at almost 10-15% to recaliberate our economic situation. Nigeria ought to be a 2.5 trillion dollar economy not a 400 billion dollar economy. We are one of the least productive nations on the African continent if not in the world. That is why this is not a popularity contest. This is not a game. This is serious business.
CHANNELS: What do you take to the views of people who say yes you might have had some hitches here and there but you are back on track but you are coming too late still? How would you respond to these set of people who initially felt that perhaps you are the force they have been waiting for?
DUKE: This is one of those races and that’s politics for you. There are a huge number of people who are silently watching and there are people who stay out of the polls because they say “neither of the candidate is worth my time” but if they find a candidate that is inspiring enough, then they will take out the time, go to the polls and vote. I hope and I wish that I am that candidate that will make Nigerians go out to vote. Listen, most of the time we go out to the polls, not more than 30% turn out. That is poor. That is because people are disillusioned with the candidates that were put forward and that’s why we need to put our best forward. I am hoping that I am one of such that inspires the people to come out from their homes on the day of elections and vote and that’s why I’m out.
CHANNELS: With reference to the fact that the other time the APC though it was new at the time has subsumed its identity with that of other people from other political parties. Let’s say your party becomes that new force in the next administration and people from these other political parties join you. What makes you think your party will not become like the incumbent now.
DUKE: No. Party politics is a free game for everyone to join but if you have internal discipline, if you maintain a leadership structure that adheres to internal discipline and is not that which compromises at will, then we will get it right. You cannot stop anyone from joining your party. Its open to everyone, every Nigerian, but you must have a leadership that is firm and that will not compromise. What we find with the APC is a compromise. People join the APC so that they will not get persecuted or prosecuted by the law. That’s not right. The largest party in Nigeria probably doesn’t have more than a million registered voters as members, in a country that has about 84 million registered voters. So a lot of segment of the population are not registered members of any political party and they are watching all these musical cheers going on back and forth. You hear one term singing the praises of a party then a new party comes in you are being persecuted by the authorities and to get off the scale you join this party. This doesn’t augur well. It doesn’t create the hope for future Nigerians that we are getting it right and this is where maturity and proper administration comes in. You can’t stop anyone from joining a party but you can administer and have one rule that guides the process completely.
CHANNELS: Let’s go to the people that you expect to give you the job of President of Nigeria. How well do you see the entire voter education apparatus in the build-up to the February elections? What do you think about the voter awareness system that we have put up so far for this election?
DUKE: Clearly there is awareness. Nigerians know that they are going to the polls in a couple of days. What I’m not sure we have right now is the motivation because folks are saying okay if these are the players we have, what’s the difference? What’s the difference between A and B? So that’s the motivation factor but the awareness is there. I mean literally, everyone knows of the elections going on and it happens every four years. Even with all the awareness that we get, you find out that turn out is really this small, 30, 35 percent just a third of the registered voters coming out and that’s where the motivation factor comes in because they are not motivated to go through the strain of lining up for a couple of hours to vote for people they don’t believe in and this is what we’ve got to change. This is why it’s important and critical that we have new faces on the block. I think I’m on the brink of becoming an old face so we need to encourage the next generation. We need to prepare them for leadership and encourage them to come out. Nigerians are globally recognized as one of the most dynamic people but when it comes to leadership I’m afraid we put a poor show and this is quite embarrassing, not only to us as a people but literally to the continent
CHANNELS: Well, Mr. Duke I remember your comment some years ago when you spoke about how elections were rigged and it was really famous. You went viral at that point in time. So do you believe in the system now?
DUKE: I think you got that wrong. I was talking about how the system is compromised because the electoral body, INEC is not given the freedom to work as it ought to and not much is changed. It’s all last minute. Last minute the budget was passed. You know four years you’re gonna do this, so you have four years to prepare for it. You don’t put everything at the last budget just before the elections. That’s why there’s some skepticism on whether we can actually have this thing on the 16th of February. INEC should start preparing for the 2023 elections immediately the new administration comes in, that’s after the 29th of May.
Now if they don’t, they will be relying on external forces and this is my point in that statement, in this case state governments to seek support. Once you depend on state government then you are depending on the players to aid the referee. You can’t adjudge the system free and fair. This is what has been going on and I hope we learn the lessons from this but I’m not sure. We don’t start early enough. I was quite disappointed when we were asking for the budget of the elections just a month or two to the elections when we knew that the dates were fixed. This is a four years ritual and we never prepare for it. By now we should have a total electronic system so we know that very few hands are involved in the processes. Democracy is all over the world, we are not pioneers in this. There are nations that are larger than us. India, for instance, has almost a billion voters and they get it right. Why can’t we with 84 million people?
CHANNELS: So tell us now, why do you wana be President?
DUKE: Because I see a nation in distrait that seems to be quivering and not knowing what to do with itself and I think I have the answers to make it right and that’s really why I’m going for it. It’s not to put myself forward and try and make a name. No! I think I am blessed in that regard but I know that if we don’t get it right, not just me will suffer but all of us. All of us are at risk. We are all endangered species one way or the other. The poverty that prevails our nation, the insecurities which are symptoms of the poverty, someone has to step forward and do it. We can’t sit back and hope that it would happen. People make things happen, things don’t just happen. I had 8 years in Cross River state thankfully and we made it happen. We put together a team of young and determined people and I think we changed the trajectory of the state. The nation needs the same and the nation is blessed to do the same.
CHANNELS: What’s your plan for job creation?
DUKE: Well, there are four things I think we need to focus on: skills, health, infrastructure and we need to embrace technology. You need to look at our skill base. It’s poor. I would like a nation where its compulsory for every child between the ages of 4 and 18 to be in school and by the time you leave secondary school at 18, you have acquired a skill.
Two, we need to have a health system which is affordable and approachable. At least we have an NHIS scheme which is not working, of course, infrastructure and all that but let me take two critical sectors; credit availability. You cannot grow an economy where banks are charging between 25 percent to 30 percnt as the interest rate. That is a No No. So for instance, if you borrow N10, 000,000, the first year of operation you are going to have to pay back to the bank about N3, 000,000. That doesn’t work. It doesn’t encourage young people and entrepreneurship. That kills it.
The only beneficiaries in this system are the banks themselves and you can see the glorified lifestyles that they live. That’s one. Two, the other part of it is the dismal infrastructure, namely; energy. We’ve been doing the same thing over the years and then getting dismal results. Maybe we should try something different. Our nation flares about 2.5 billion cubic fit of gas daily, which is equivalent to 25 million litres of diesel. Now I have a policy. Anything that is essential must be local. So for instance, water that is essential to life must be localized. You can’t produce water in Lagos and pump it to Abuja for people in Abuja to survive on. The same thing with energy, in modern living electricity, is essential. So you cannot generate for instance from Afam and supply Sokoto. You need to generate locally, transmit and distribute within an ambit. So, what we are required to do is totally decentralize the fuel, which we have a preponderance of gas and generate locally. If we are able to do that we would provide electricity in a more stable manner than we have been doing. That’s one.
Two, let’s get our priorities right. This is literally a nation that imports all the fuel it uses and subsidizes what it imports but gas that we flare in abundance we charge international rates for local consumption. It doesn’t make sense. We spend more money subsidizing fuel than we spend on education, health, and repairing the roads that the cars will drive on. It just doesn’t make sense and no government, at least in recent times has had the political will to do the right thing. I would rather we subsidize gas and move the nation from fuel dependence to gas. I admit that due to the hardships that we have, we need some form of palliative to make life easier for people. If you are flaring gas that means you have an abundance of it. You can give it for next to nothing. That should be the subsidy that we give industry. If you had affordable credit, available and pretty cheap gas, the goods that you produce will be competitive within the sub-region, if not globally. It would attract foreign investment into the country. We keep talking of Foreign Direct Investment. Only fools thread where angels dread. If your own people don’t invest in the economy don’t expect foreigners to come in. Foreigners don’t just walk into our country and start investing, it’s the locals that attract them to bring them in. And so we need to look at the issues. I know the government talks about the ease of doing business. You can’t talk about the ease of doing business when you are not even a productive economy. We are mercantile, we are trading all the time and consuming. Let’s address the interest rate and the availability of funding and we can look at the energy conundrum that we find ourselves.