By Omoniyi Salaudeen

One will be saying the obvious to state that Alhaji Shuaib Oyedokun, a founding member of the People Democratic Party (PDP), has passed through the thick and tin of party politics in Nigeria.

In his interview, he x-rayed the performance of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in nearly one year of his administration, as well as the lingering crisis in his party as an opposition.   

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu will be one year in office this month. What would be your performance assessment so far?

Assessing this government is not an easy task especially being a member of the opposition party. But as an elder statesman, what should be the yardstick is the principle of objectivity. I did not expect what I have seen so far. To handle a country like Nigeria is not an easy task. In the present circumstances we all find ourselves, I think this government is trying to weather the storms and there is hope for Nigerians. The situation this government met on ground was appalling. It was a total chaotic situation. Although Tinubu can still be blamed for it because the ruling party remains the same, but individual makes the difference. So, I never even expected the present President to perform the way he is performing. One thing I cherish in him the way he is performing is that he seems to be a very good communicator. He speaks out to the people personally and through his ministers. You will hear him personally explaining the issues on situation even in spite of abuses. That’s what makes me develop some hope.

Even then, the ordinary people seem to be confused as to where the country is headed. Don’t you?

I am part of the ordinary people. In most cases the ordinary people understand the situation, but the problem we have is that leaders are misleading them either by misinformation or disinformation. And the social media is not helping either. Let Jesus or Muhammed come today, people will have something to say against them.

What specific areas of governance – security, economy, infrastructure, power sector or the food crisis the country is currently grappling with – would you say the country has fared better?

There has been more chaos in all those areas you mentioned than they are now and efforts are on to fix those areas of challenges.

Let’s agree that very reform always comes with pains. But in this case, it appears the pain of the proverbial childbirth is taking forever to subside. When will the relief come? 

I am not part of the Renewed Hope agenda. But from what we have seen, I believe that there is hope for Nigeria. With the present economic measures and efforts on security, there is hope for the nation. When our party comes to power we will address these issues better.

There are some policies of government that are being criticized, especially the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway. The presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the last general election, Peter Obi, in his criticism, sees the project as a misplaced priority. According to him, the government should have been focused on fixing the existing dilapidated roads spread across the country rather than investing in a new project that will take several years to complete. What is your take on this?

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The person criticizing is a rival to the president and a rival will never see anything good in whatever the government does. I know Peter Obi as a very objective and credible person. But if a long term project will benefit the people, it must have to start one day. You cannot postpone what will help the future till another day. Once you develop the concept, move on. If you can’t finish it, some other people will finish it. I remember the case of the Ring Road in Ibadan, it was carved out in a forest and people were wondering how many people will use the road because it was desolate. Today, it is in the middle of the town. If the project can be completed in the future, it will link up the whole country. So, I believe in the project and it is not a question of starting it today and finishing it tomorrow.   

As it is often said, ‘man is the means and end to development.’ That development must necessarily be human-centred. It is appreciated that infrastructure is being given the desired priority. But then, it appears the human element of it is at the lowest ebb, especially with the hardship of fuel subsidy removal and lately too electricity tariff hike. Is that not enough to suggest that the government is sacrificing the human element of its development effort for infrastructure and accumulation of revenue?

Remember that the Coastal road you earlier mentioned is not meant for animals, but human beings. You can also imagine the level of job opportunity that will arise from it. Look at the futuristic aspect of it for the country. However, I am not saying that the government should give less priority to food security, power supply and all other issues you mentioned. Food security cannot be isolated from human security. The latter affects the former. If the security improves, there will be abundance of food because many people will go back to their farms. Sometime, in development, you sacrifice one thing for the other. You can’t be in all fronts; the ultimate goal of development effort is the most important thing. There must be sacrifices here and there.

But is government not over-taxing Nigerians?

I have to be very frank; I am not supporting the government. In fact, I am talking in pains because whatever suffering people are going through now does not exempt me. All I am saying is that we have too many indulgences. We spend money on unnecessary things without producing anything. Are we producing? Most of our youths are indolent. Some people have opportunity to work, but don’t work. Those who want to work don’t have the opportunity. You cannot develop if you cannot make sacrifices. I believe we are learning. Things had gone bad during the last administration; we have to make sacrifices to correct some of them. Some toes have to be stepped on.

The crisis within the People Democratic Party is lingering. Why has peace remained elusive?

Except we want to deceive ourselves, we cannot continue to pretend as if nothing is happening in the party. Otherwise, we will continue to suffer in silence. Our party took ill immediately after the 2023 presidential election, but fortunately the National Working Committee eventually took it to our constitutional organs (Caucus, BOT and the NEC) on the 18th of April for evaluation. Interim measures have been taken. This goes to the credit of the NWC. In spite of all insinuations and harassments, I will score them high because party politics is not easy to manage. There are contending forces working on the National Working Committee. There are lots of rivalries and criticisms. And for a body that has been beheaded and still managed to struggle till 18th of April, deserves commendation. Our problem is not a fresh problem.

Some members of the party are looking at the governors as being part of the problem. Aren’t they?

When you are talking about the leadership of the party, our problem started after Olusegun Obasanjo left power as president.  No doubt, Obasanjo is a very strong character. He has very superb human control ability, but he has committed total abdication of moral responsibility to sustain the legacy and foundation which he laid while in government. The same thing happened to former President Goodluck Jonathan. Both of them were president on the platform of the PDP and today they are respected global figures. Naturally at home, they are also very good. But their responsibility to PDP has been denied. And I believe that is the fundamental reason we have the problem we have in the party toady. If Obasanjo had remained in PDP even after retirement, we wouldn’t have been in this problem. If Jonathan had developed the habit of looking back, things would have been better. Both of them are beneficiaries, they should not abandon it. We are not saying they should remain as party people; they should be patrons of the party. With their position and the respect people have for them, if one of them had remained in the party, we wouldn’t have been in the kind of mess we are today. Apart from that, we also have the deserters who engage in wholesale movement from one party to another and coming back. So, we have developed what I will call disjointed leadership style. Now, back to the issue of governors, when you have leadership in the hands of aspirants, the power to control the party will be weakened because he wouldn’t want to offend anybody. All people who have taken advantage of the party have deserted the party looking for greener pasture. Where are the former national chairmen of the party? In a circumstance like this, naturally those who will be in control of the party are the governors you are referring to. They want to hold on to their states. They also have influence on the national organs of the party. Whether we like it or not, whatever they want is what they will get. They have the power to control who gets what. Under a normal circumstance, it shouldn’t be so. The party is held in the jugular. What is worse in it is the stubbornness of the leadership sometime. With the leadership, there are some people who don’t have money, but have mobilizing ability at the grassroots level. There are also some who wear big Agbada and are very close to the aspirants. They are not in touch with the home base, but they have mouth. Whatever advice is given to the aspirants, they are the people who will go behind to have a different opinion and confuse the aspirants. You don’t abandon old friends in a crucial election and go and hire professional machineries. It doesn’t work. That is where our problem lies.

Back to your Osun home state, how would you assess the performance of Governor Ademola Adeleke?

I will be saying the obvious if I say he is social and learning on the job. The only aspect we elders are trying to draw his attention to is how to sustain the party. I have personally been in collaboration with some of our party leaders. I have engaged in discussion with the Chairman of the party and the national vice chairman, Kamorudeen Ajisafe. I am sure they will look into complaints from some quarters to avoid affordable defections and I believe they will succeed.