Pastor Tunde Bakare is known as a fiery preacher. But, now, he wears a new toga. He is a politician. Last Saturday in Lagos , he met with select journalists to explain his journey into partisan politics and what it took General Muhammadu Buhari to enlist him in the Congress for Progressive Change’s army for the April 9 presidential election. He spo…ke on his party’s strategies and disclosed that he got the endorsement of Christian leaders before accepting to run with Buhari. Group Political Editor BOLADE OMONIJO attended the session. Excerpts:
As a pastor, your calling is to win souls for Christ. How did you end up in partisan politics and now as running mate to General Muhammadu Buhari?
Ordinarily, I shouldn’t have business in partisan politics, but it is too important to be left in the hands of politicians alone. I thought my job is just to raise the standard of God’s consciousness in our nation and ensure that righteousness exalts this nation by instilling the fear of God in our people. I have been harassed by military dictators and their civilian counterparts, but I never thought a day would come that I would do this. The last time I marched the streets in my life was in 1978 and that was during the days of Ali-must-go. When I left school, I thought marching the streets had ended, until the crisis that almost pushed Nigeria to the precipice recently. We rose by the grace of God, gathered all civil society organisations together on January 7 and fixed January 12 for mass protest against what was happening, a culture of impunity against a sitting Vice President, not a candidate at the time, and by the grace of God, the people joined us in the protest. We had our way, the president was endorsed and that was it.
How did you get fully involved in the whole thing?
We thought SNG should not end there; that we should move to the next phase, unblocking the minds of our people to know that sovereignty truly lies in their hands and that they must register to vote. We began to open SNG chapters across the nation, until one fateful afternoon of May 3. Someone asked me a question: ‘Pastor Bakare, are you raising responsible people to vote for irresponsible people?’ It hit me like a thunder bolt and that was the turning point for me. Then we decided to engage the political class and show Nigerians the irreducible minimum they should be looking for in a candidate. So, we came up with a contract for Nigeria , which was launched in Nigeria on May 5, 2010. We began to engage the political class. I personally engaged Atiku and we drew our seven-point irreducible minimum that we wanted to see in parties and politicians and key players in every political party – high-level transparency and internal democracy which is germane to our development. We finally took a stand. We went to the President with a document which we gave to elders in some parts of the country including religious leaders like Pastor Adeboye on why we would not support Jonathan. We listed three or four things.
The culture of impunity we rose to fight had returned full circle into our country and we gave him examples like what was happening in Ogun State where SNG had to intervene alongside Professor Wole Soyinka at a town hall meeting to decry the situation. The same thing happened in Bauchi; the governor moved from ANPP to PDP; his deputy did not move along with him. The governor used the House to impeach him; the man went to court and won, but another person was sworn in as deputy governor. Now, the governors of Bauchi and Ogun states are now the coordinators for President Jonathan’s campaign, which means he has made up his mind, whether there is violation of people’s right or people’s will. The cry of my heart has been that except we return to true federalism, Nigeria cannot make progress because we were better than this when we had little resources. These were the things we were saying and began to position our people.
But, even if SNG felt strongly that something had to be done, couldn’t the body have identified and backed other credible Nigerians on the political scene? Why you?
On July 31, 2010, we summoned the first meeting; 10 people were invited, but only eight showed up. At the meeting were Nuhu Ribadu, Malam Nasiru el Rufai, Donald Duke, Oby Ezekwesili, Ngozi Iweala, Fola Adeola and Jimi Agbaje. Governor Fashola was also invited. So, we called these arrow-heads because we wanted to go outside of normal party structure, raise a new calibre of people that would either move to a political party en masse or start one. That day, we decided to use a new party because I loved the name, the New Democrats. I said to them that day the only way I would participate in this process is to give two conditions: I will spend and be spent for it, but I will not touch elective office and I will not join a political party. I’m fulfilled the way I’m functioning and everybody knows by the grace of God whether you like what I’m saying or not, when I rise to speak, I say it the way it is and leave it there, and we agreed. But unfortunately, the man who registered New Democrats, which we were going to use, decided to become the campaign director in the Diaspora for IBB; the rest is history
At a point you engaged the Labour Party?
We decided to engage Labour Party because it is generic; but one of us pulled the trigger. Nuhu Ribadu decided to pick the ticket of ACN, that was a good development, and I said if that’s the way you want to go, we will still go together and we were all going together on the platform of Labour Party. We then thought out who we should present as candidate. It was Donald Duke that we were going to feature as Vice President and Malam el Rufai as the presidential candidate. But Donald Duke came back and said he would not be able to accept such responsibility; he was even the one that suggested Labour Party to us.
How did you settle for working with General Buhari?
Malam el Rufai returned to the country and gave us some stiff conditions that for as long as Nuhu is out (campaigning), he would not come out because it could divide the north further. I saw the point and we said we should forget it. Before we got to that stage, we also engaged Buhari. We went to him in Kaduna like we sat with Jonathan and Atiku as well as Ribadu. I came back to Nigeria to engage Buhari because we didn’t give him any chance at all. If you read in the press all that I said about him (Buhari), I said they were all part of the old, who can’t produce anything for us; there is no point lying. I won’t say something and deny it. But when I engaged the man, I discovered that he had changed from what he used to be. And of all the people I sat with, he is the most credible that gave all the right answers and that was willing to engage us and to seek help. A good leader is not an all-rounder; he is the one who knows his weakness and can stab that weakness and will engage in people who are much more competent than himself and release them to accomplish a task. If you don’t mind who takes the credit, you will get much more done. When Malam el Rufai said he would not contest because he would be seen as competing with Nuhu, we felt that the other candidate left was Buhari; but we wished them all the best and washed off our hands. I was tidying my wardrobe when the phone call came and it was Buhari on the other side and he said: “Pastor Bakare, after deep thoughts, I will consider it a great honour if you can run with me as my Vice Presidential candidate for the 2011 elections”.
The answer was not far- fetched, it was in my lips waiting: ‘Thanks, but no thanks and I told him that I didn’t come because I wanted to play politics. I want to be part of those who will reshape Nigeria and create a party that can be respected.’ I called Pastor Adeboye and he surprised me because I thought he would say no way; but I played into his hands. When we went to meet with President Jonathan, the documents we gave to him, we also submitted it to Pastor Adeboye and he asked who the best person that can salvage Nigeria was. I told him, from all I have seen, the person that can rescue us right now is Muhammadu Buhari, but he has no money. He is popular in the north, he does not have a clue of how to come into the south because of so many things they’ve hanged on his head over the years. I was still not persuaded. I went again to meet Pastor Adeboye, and submitted what we were doing. He said ‘if you are ever considering Muhammadu Buhari, then you need to look for a strong Christian to be his running mate.’ And I stood up and said ‘we will look for the strong Christian but I want you to know that it cannot be me; I’m satisfied with what I’m doing.’ I did not know that as I was doing all these, I was worming myself into the heart of Buhari. By the time I called Pastor Adeboye, he said, ‘that you did not lobby for this, it is an opportunity for you to express everything you have carried for this nation. Move forward.’ I called him (Adeboye) again the second day and said, ‘sir, will you support me?’ He (Adeboye) said, ‘with everything I have got in my own way, just go for it, I will be praying.’
What actually are you bringing to the table, that other people can join you in making your aspiration fruitful?
One of the conditions we gave before accepting this – and all my friends were there in Kaduna before I signed any paper – is that I said, “General, you can fight corruption. You have the courage and the will, because you have been adjudged a clean man, a man of probity, but beyond fighting corruption, I don’t know you to be an economist and me that you are asking to come, I am not an economist. Would it be acceptable to you that we build a change team, a people who are not just technocrats, who have been there before, who understand the issues, so that we build a formidable team from within our nation and outside of our country in the Diaspora. And he accepted.
The question is what political value you are adding to the ticket…
Someone once said that he had no political structure and I said, you didn’t build your own in one day, either. When I rose and people said you can’t pull it through, I remember the ACF person, Shettima Yerima, he said don’t go to Abuja to protest, stay in Lagos where you have people; but you do not know what we have done over the years building networks across this country. There is no part of this country, no zone where we are not represented. Look at the last voter registration, Lagos State has the highest number, more than six million people; you think it is because Lagosians are aware? We knew what we did. SNG started what we call VEAC-Voters Education Awareness Campaign. We sent 10 men to every ward to go knock at people’s doors to bring them out. Those we have on our data will shock you.
Do you think within the time frame, you can make impact?
I took that up in Ibadan three days ago. I assembled all our chairmen and stakeholders in Ibadan . And I said I have heard this repeatedly mentioned that we have no time. That time is against us. Time is not against us. Time is never against you. Number one, all the courses we studied in university called time management is a lie. You can only manage yourself in time. You can never manage time. The rich, the poor, the young, the old, the male, the female, the sick and the young; we all have the same amount of time. When God is behind a particular thing, when the people are yearning for change… how long did it take to remove a 28-year depot in Egypt ? We are not going to begin to invest money on billboards. I have been pastoring a church in this country for 22 years and we have never pasted a poster, no billboard; but people keep coming. The north has decided who the president would be. I also believe South West will play a critical role in presidential electoral victory in 2011; so is the South East. We need 25 per cent from 24 states. The whole of the north is 19, plus south West it is 25; if you get 25 per cent in the whole of the north and the Southwest, you are already president of Nigeria . But the battle for the south west must be fought with re-engineering in the mind of our people. That is what we want to do. That is why we have kept the flag-off of the South West to the last.
What would give anyone the optimism that Buhari who is principled and a forthright person like you would win election in Nigeria ’s messy environment?
My exposure to the corridors of power frightens me. If the PDP by hook or crook wins the 2011 elections, we might just kiss Nigeria good bye and we will not be guilty of not trying. It is not a do-or-die affair. I am not going to borrow money or sell houses to run the election and Buhari will not do that either. One person gave him all the posters and bill boards in the North-West; another person gave us vehicles for the campaign. I took her aside and asked why she did that, she simply said: “In Petroleum Trust Fund days, I got contracts without lobbying and we tried to give this man, he refused and this is the only way we can compensate him.” Are we going to say because of the depravity in the system we won’t do what is right? The responses we are getting from ordinary people, if translated to votes, will see us through; but the environmental pollution has clouded our minds that we do not think it is possible. Most of the elite will not vote that day. Some say we can’t win; let’s do our best and leave the rest for God. In Tunisia , one man tired of oppression, set himself ablaze and the President is no longer in power. We can make a change if we all beam our searchlight on those things that are holding us back. I read in the papers that Jega has adopted the voting procedure used during the 1993 elections which I support – simultaneous voting. I presented this same position to Jega when I had no interest in politics.
We have seen violence rock political campaigns and the PDP has accused the CPC of causing it…
Did the CPC cause the violence in Bayelsa? Did the CPC cause the stampede in Port-Harcourt where so many people died? I am an eyewitness to history we flew from Abuja to Maiduguri . The governor of Borno took away all the buses off the streets so that no one would come; but they trekked. Some came on motorcycles. It took us over one and a half hour on a five-kilometre road to arrive the palace of the Shehu of Borno. The CPC is not behind it; it is the revolt of the poor. That is why I said we should be careful, if the elections are not rigged and they are fair, everybody will be calm and the results will be acceptable. However, if the people feel they have been cheated, God save us.
Given the spate of injunctions by the courts, do you think the elections will hold as scheduled?
The judiciary is already compromised and all kinds of injunctions come from the courts. It is worrisome; I do agree. At some points, I felt it and for my passion, I was getting ready to open my chambers again because the likes of Chief Gani Fawehinmi are gone. This is solely why CPC is saying we are not going to the court; we will settle matters at the polls. We do not mean violence. There must be simultaneous voting, the modified open secret ballot system.