By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye

On Friday, Mr. Babachair Lawal, former secretary to the government of the Federation and one of the key supporters of Mr Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, , spoke on a Channels Television programme, The 2023 Verdict, anchored by Seun Okinbaloye. In the explosive session monitored by Daily Sun, Lawal spoke on various issues and predicted victory for Peter Obi in the forthcoming general election.

How is it the race from the last time you were on politics today, and now, has anything changed dramatically?

Well, on the side of Labour Party, what has changed is that areas where we had not expected Labour to do well, they are galloping through and the momentum is so much that it’s difficult to contain.

You know, when this 2023 election season commenced, Peter Obi was not on the card during the computations as to what would happen. The expectation was that the race was a straight race between APC and PDP, then out of nowhere, Peter Obi comes in and then followed by Rabiu kwankwaso. And the whole permutations changed. Unfortunately, for the two parties, the APC and PDP, they didn’t have the capacity to factor in these new dynamics, and the thing is overrunning them.

As we speak, Peter Obi has run PDP out of Adamawa state. They have run PDP out of Taraba, Plateau, Benue, Kaduna states; quite a lot of the states in the North where we were targeting 25 percent, well, now we are targeting anything from 55 to 70 percent in majority of the states in the North.

Of course, we also had some doubts about whether or not the Southeast will come out enmasse to support Peter Obi but to our pleasant surprise, it is now a complete overrun. No party…they only go to South East to campaign as a form of tourism and they end up demarketing themselves.

In the South south, where we thought we were going to compete on a 50-50 basis with any other party or maybe PDP, we find ourselves targeting 80, 90 percent in the South south.

So that’s how it is. I can tell you that, even in the so called core North. I give you an example. Two weeks back, I sent some campaign materials to one of our supporters in Katsina and when it got to the motor-park and the poor man went to collect the campaign materials, the motor park security wanted to see what was in the bag, and when it was discovered that it was Peter Obi/Datti T-Shirts, they ransacked it. Everybody got a piece of it. And what they were telling the poor man was that in Katsina, they are tired. They’d been told over and over to vote for their fellow Muslims; that they did vote for their fellow Muslims in past elections but see where they are, most of them are now  refugees living in the motor parks.

So this time around, they do not want to listen to anybody telling them to vote for their brother because he’s a Muslim, because they voted for a Muslim and only ended up in a motor park as refugees.

You were one of those who preached the APC to Nigerians. You were one of the founding fathers of the APC. When you say people are tired, what do you mean?

Well in the lives of people that are so oppressed, living on this incredible insecurity, poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease, a time comes when they get fed up and the little thing will just ignite the flame and there’s a conflagration. I can tell you that Peter Obi is that conflagration in Nigeria, because every Nigerian has come to realize that there is no way we can continue the way we are doing.

And what is wrong with the state of things right now?

Nothing is working.

Under the APC government?

Under the APC government. Yes,

You were one of those who said, Nigerians should vote for the APC?

Yes, I’ve seen the light my brother, I’ve seen the light, you can repent when you see the light. I’ve seen the light, I saw the light and repented. I’m sorry, I did that before.

Which one is the light now?

The light is Peter Obi.

And which is the darkness?

The darkness is the old system that is used to govern us, which is represented by both PDP and APC; no change, same people, same Agbada, same red cap, faze-caps, same people. So Nigerians have seen the light, not only me.

But you were part of the darkness that you are referring to; in fact, at some point, you were being referred to as one of the cabals in power?

Not only that, my office was regarded as the engine room of the government. But as I said, when you see the light, you can repent; a sinner does repent, doesn’t he?

You are one of those building blocs of the APC; what went wrong?

The government didn’t function very well. I don’t know what has gone wrong. Because really, government was expected to handle the insecurity. As we talk, I must be very realistic to you, I’m from Adamawa and there’s no route to which I travel to Yola, feeling safe. There is no route in and outside Yola, that you cannot sink into a pothole, nothing has happened in terms of infrastructure in Adamawa State. The insecurity a little bit has improved, but it has changed dimensions. In those days, we bothered about Boko Haram. Now it is so called insurgents, faceless people we don’t know who they are. They ransack your farm, they kidnap your people enmasse, you pay ransom, money that you don’t have. So, things have changed.

But you were one of those who said that President Buhari and the APC had the magic to solve the problem of Nigeria?

I was.

But is it President Buhari’s capacity or something is around him that is not making things work according to your permutation right now?

I can tell you this. I know President Buhari very well, long before he became president and most Nigerians also knew him. And the expectation was that based on his antecedents, as former governor of Borno State, former Minister of Petroleum and then president, he had shown a remarkable sense of ability to rule. And every Nigerian, had hope that 2015, we were almost at the same level we are at this time around, people were fed up. But when he got in, I think the President has issues with his lieutenants about who execute the orders he gives, and who execute the policies that he makes. And that is really, my own side of things.

Are you thinking it went out of his hand?

Things are out of his hands and there’s no running from that fact, I can say it.

There are powers behind the power, right?

There are people that don’t take the orders that they are given; as soon as they leave where the order is given, they will go and do different things.

And these are the cables?

There’s nothing like cables. There’s no government that doesn’t have an inner caucus, there’s no government.

And these are people who you think are spearheading this?

There are people who have the ear of the president, whose function in government is that they ought to do things, but they’re not doing what the president tells them to do, or what the President expects them to do, or what the society itself expects them to do.

Why do you assume these people are doing what they are doing? Do they have any motive? Or why would the President give an order and people around him according to you, are not doing it?

Obviously, it does appear clearly that the President gives orders that nobody obeys; as soon as they say yes sir, but as they leave they go and do different things. And these same people or their kind are expected to report back results to the President. And if they choose to report the wrong result, what is the poor man going to do?

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You are familiar with the inner workings of government at that highest level. Governor El-Rufai was making mention of the cabals who are working against the victory, or the winning possibility of Bola Tinubu. Who are these people? How powerful are they? Can you decipher the kind of thing that the governor has described?

You know, I don’t engage in idle chatter. The Bible has so many verses warning against idle chatter. So, I don’t want to take Nasir El-Rufai on idle chattering all over the place. But one thing is clear, if the society wakes up and there’s fuel shortage all over the country, there’s no way you can say it is targeted at APC alone. There are 18 political parties that are operating in the same environment. If there’s shortage of cash out there, is idle chatter if you say it was targeting a particular political party. All the 18 political parties are operating in this environment. So, how APC came to the conclusion that it is targeting them, well, I can only say it’s up to them. Maybe abinito, they had evil plans, which this system has sabotaged, but which the rest of us 17 political parties are not going to be victims of.

The issue now of the capacity of the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi winning the election, with reference to Governor El-Rufai’s statement saying that the race is between the APC and the PDP. He says, Peter Obi is a Nollywood actor, and he’s going nowhere. Those are his words. How do you react to that?

Last time I was here, I did tell you that based on my analysis, APC is not on this ballot. It is getting worse for them. And it’s only understandable if somebody like Nasir El-Rufai goes hysterical calling people names, it’s understandable, you know. Basically, people of your height persuasion, are known to be hysterical when things don’t go their way. So as I said, I don’t want to engage Nasir El-Rufai in idle chatter.

Let’s stick to what he said rather than on the personality. He has right to his own views

Yeah! That’s the idle chatter that I am talking about.

You can express your views; would that be seen as an idle chatter too?

Of course; if it is idle chatter, then it is.

But if he says that the race is between the APC and PDP, is that an idle chatter?

I can give you my own statistics. I said here, that the areas where APC was hoping to cash in, Labour has chased them out of town. It’s clear that places like Borno, they are fighting for their lives, Labour Party has moved in. What this Muslim-Muslim ticket has done is to awaken the sleeping majority; people who never felt they had anything to gain in the political system because they were busy. But now they have woken up. Somehow, this APC ticket has awoken up people and has exposed APC’s failure and has managed to create a link between PDP and APC, as those who have been ruling us for years, the consequence of which we are now suffering. Every Nigerian is now determined to have a say in this election. And those who Nasir El-Rufai, for example, claims that the Christians were not many, that northern Christians are not many, I want him to wait for 25th February, and he’ll see the shock of his life.

You know, when he goes around banding about 5 million or 6 million votes in Kano, he forgot that out of that 5 or 6 million, there are about 1 million Igbos alone resident in various towns in Kano State. And for the first time because of the insecurity that his government and the type created, people couldn’t travel to their villages to register as it used to be. They registered where they are, those factors will play out in this election. It is a mistake for you to say that 6 million registered voters in Lagos are all Yorubas, they are not. They comprise of Hausas, Igbos, Ibibios, Kanuris, all sorts of people, those people will vote where they’re at. So out of the  6 million he is boasting about, close to 1 million are Igbos. And I’m sure, I don’t think he can boast that those people will vote APC in Kano.

Why is that any poll conducted Peter Obi is ahead? I know those who have criticized the result of some of these polls, some opposition believe that those polls are inaccurate and Peter Obi does not stand a chance?

Because they have a sense of delusion. Naturally, for every politician that is contesting for election, he thinks he will win. That’s why he’s contesting but it gets to a point where you are living in delusion and see and accept them as the facts. So the only way I see it is delusion. And, like my friend, Bola has a lot of money that he has been pumping in and people are after that money. And they’ll continue to feed him with what he wants to hear.

For a man who says his life ambition is to be president, any information that you give him will reinforce that view to him to raise more money for you. So they create a sense of delusion, which only they see the results. But no other person does. It’s delusional.

How difficult was it for you to switch allegiance?

It wasn’t difficulty. It was a matter of principle really. Bola as you all know, has been my friend for years, and I’ve been involved in building up this political system to the stage that by the time we got to the National Convention of APC, I was actually one of the key members of the system. But as a Christian, as a northerner, I know the persecutions we suffer on account of just being Christians. And I felt that now, you need to know what the conditions we were living under in the North here, as Christians.

As you are well aware, we don’t get C of O to build churches. A common example I used to give, out of 27 federal universities, including the Police College and Army, and the Air Force, there are only five Christian vice chancellors. Similarly, for polytechnics, there are only five rectors. For 21 colleges of education, for example, there’s only one provost. Now, the consequences of that to us is that if your son as a Christian for example applies to go to a University and he gets 300 credit, for example, you get to read microbiology, whereas the non Christians, if they get 200 Credit, they get to read medicine.

So we are living under conditions that are so strenous, so difficult for us. I mean, if you enter any government office in this town, there is no Christian working in these offices that is not pained. If you interview him, there are sad stories, and they don’t go on course, because they are Christians. They say sir, we don’t get promotion, because we are Christians, sir they don’t send us on outstation duties, so that we don’t get allowance, because they’re Christians. Because every northern Christian is feeling constrained, is feeling constricted, no matter the efforts.

So, it got to a stage, we felt something must give. And by the grace of God, you know, God in his miraculous ways, they say, God comes and drops on our lap, Muslim-Muslim ticket which we consider as the final and conclusive seal of approval of our conditions. And who would not accept it? I mean it was like a challenge from God, you cross this line, we are finished. So all my people, my brothers, my sisters,  people we grew up with and so on so forth, we’re feeling constrained with the Muslim-Muslim ticket.

I mean, you don’t lead the people that are not following you, you only end up following yourself. So I turn back and I looked that every Christian in the North will not follow me today to Muslim-Muslim ticket. So who am I leading? And of course, I too, have been a victim of all these things that they are saying. I’ve managed by the grace of God to progress and scale through. So we all decided I will not.

But you held an enormous power as the SGF, you had power to change things. Why was it difficult for you to do it?

Let me tell you, even when you become, like President Muhammadu Buhari appointed me as secretary to the government, a lot of them felt that I should be grateful for that privilege, that I don’t merit it; it is just a privilege. And therefore, when they come to you with their request, you must honour it, because you must be like a lapdog to them. And of course, you know, I wasn’t built that way. So I started with a conflict from day one.  You cannot control me, you cannot manipulate me, you cannot make me feel inferior just because of my religion. I used to tell them that well, I am educated, I was an engineer, and as an engineer I have every right to be SGF. I worked hard for Buhari to win the election and I have every right to be SGF. And just because I’m from a small tribe, and a Christian doesn’t disqualify me.

So it was difficult for you to change?

Oh it was a war at all fronts. I can tell you that from the day I took over the office, there were some people I know who swore that I must get me out of the office.

One of the clutches around the wheel of progress in government and you will see that the Oronsanya report has revealed as much. Do you think that your candidate Peter Obi has a chance of winning this election? What is your biggest fear in that strata, the government, the civil service, that you think may hold him back?

The way I see it, I will illustrate it to you by example. Some three years ago, some nomadic herdsmen, they are Fulanis entered my farm, eating up my crops from my farm. They poured their cattle into my farm, luckily, I was there. We chased them out and arrested about four of them and took them to the police station. At the police station, they were boasting, don’t you know that this is our government? Do you think that we can come here without somebody authorising  us to? Of course, as a former SGF, I knew they were just talking nonsense. Nobody could have told them to enter my farm. But they had the perception that because they are Fulanis and their brother is in government, they could do whatever they liked. Now, for as long as their brother is not in the government, as they say, their arrogance will automatically go down to maybe our level if not lower. So, it is important that we fight this arrogance, both the privileged and underprivileged by thinking that they can do whatever they want to do and get away with it. Quite a lot of things happen and I think the impunity will not be there if a person other than a northerner becomes president.

I would say for example, like what happened to this Deborah girl in Sokoto, where a little girl just posted something on the social app of her school, she was chased down, killed and butchered and burnt alive. And as we talk, we don’t know anybody that has been arrested or has been tried for her murder. Now, I would think that a different president would create an enabling environment in which when you behave that way, you’ll be brought to book.

So we’re asking people about what you would like the candidates to focus on in their campaigns, and perhaps when they get into office, what they would like them to focus on. And most of this issue lies around the economy, the electricity. With what you know, in government, what are the solutions that Peter Obi is bringing on board, what do you think can make him be a successful president should he be elected on the 25th of February?

The electricity industry is a very complex system. First of all, it has to be generated and generated efficiently. The government has privatized the generating companies, they are now called the Gencos. Now they generate the electricity, and it is transported through the transmission lines. The transmission lines are owned by the Federal Government because at the time they were privatizing, I think the argument was that it would not be economical or expedient to privatize the transmission lines.  At the other end was the distribution companies, the Discos. Now herein lies the problem. The disco can only pick electricity that it can sell. For as long as he doesn’t have market for what it can pick, electricity cannot be stored like diesel in a tank, you must sell it. So if the disco cannot sell the electricity it is picking from the transmission lines, it runs at a loss.

So there is a possibility of winning a war on lack of electricity in Nigeria and you think Peter Obi has the capacity?

Oh yes. Peter Obi has the capacity. Incidentally, the manifesto is clear about that. Peter Obi too calls himself a trader and an industrialist. And we all understand that without electricity, you can begin to do nothing in terms of economic development or the infrastructure.

Just a quick permutation. A lot has happened since the last time and in just 20 days away, and you politicians will say a day is a long time in politics. How do you see things panning out? Where are those areas you think, perhaps might be difficult for the Labour Party or Peter Obi to make an inroad?

Well, let me put it this way. First of all, as I said, we don’t see APC on this ticket.

The race is between you and who?

The race is between PDP and Labour Party. And yes, it is true, the large voting populations, Sokoto, Kano, the larger population in the North, might go to PDP. So the chance of getting a large number of votes is high. But we are eating into it. As I did say here before, it’s wrong to assume that because Kano has 5 million registered voters, they are all going to vote PDP because APC is not there. Of course, Kano is going to Kwanwaso,  the son of the soil. It easily takes the son of the soil syndrome. Kwankwaso will take Kano, PDP will come close second and then we Labour Party will take the balance. I will not leak some of our permutations. But I know that there are about six or seven local governments in Kano, that we are very hopeful.

Do you think that this election will end in the first ballot?

That’s what I’m trying to say. Our strategy now is to deny Atiku the possibility of getting 24 states. If we can deny him some of the key areas, we will win this election on first ballot.

Quote: “Kano is going to Kwanwaso,  the son of the soil. It easily takes the son of the soil syndrome. Kwankwaso will take Kano, PDP will come close second and then we Labour Party will take the balance”