•Why I did not take Osinbajo’s threat to sue me seriously
•Nobody can stop opposition from criticising incompetence in the Presidency
Dr. Katch Ononuju is an economist, public affairs analyst and stalwart of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the leading opposition party in Nigeria. In this interview with AKANI ALAKA, he spoke on the recent threat by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to commence legal action against him over some alleged libellous and malicious allegations he made. He also talked about the chances of the PDP to retain Bayelsa State in the governorship election holding later in the month.
Recently, Vice President Osinbajo threatened to drag you to court for levelling some allegations against him. Have you received any court summons in this regard?
I did not honestly take the VP seriously because I am used to that kind of talk. I was also flattered that he had me in his thoughts.
I just thought it was just a politician making a noise. But the VP is not just a politician; he is a lawyer, a politician and a pastor. But when he was saying he would waive his immunity, that’s when I just laughed and knew he was just talking.
One, I know we have been here before with President Yar’Adua – that time, I was working for President Yar’Adua and he was suing Leadership newspaper and it got to the day for Yar’Adua to be cross-examined, but the court said no, Yar’Adua cannot come to court.
Yar’Adua said no, he wanted to clear his name. But the court said no, Yar’Adua that came from Katsina is a different person from the one, who is the president.
The court said immunity has to do with the Presidency, not the person of the president. And that’s why I did not take the VP seriously.
Secondly, I am a public intellectual. I did not generate the crisis. I did not generate the allegations. All I did was, I answered questions put to me to the best of my knowledge and based on the available information in the public space.
I did not generate the public hearing at the House of Representatives. And when the public hearing indicted the vice president, he did not put in any effort to contest the indictment.
So, when the people he worked with started throwing things around, and I was one of the few people that sat down with them, they gave me so much and I asked myself what is this?
But then, as a voice in the opposition rank, all we cared about is the incompetence in the handling of responsibilities bequeathed to an office and the corruption that is there.
I have been on television, discussing the corruption because I remembered at a time on AIT, I pointed out that in education, the number of out of school rose from about 12.5 million when Buhari came to office, to about 16.8 million based on a census taken by the Federal Ministry of Education in February.
And I said that if the special intervention programme they referred to, as school feeding has been successful, we will not have an increase in the number of children out of school.
And I detailed my own people because as director-general of a think tank, we go deep into public research before we can talk about anything.
And we also looked at the report from the House of Reps. I got quite a lot from the House of Reps’ findings and also, the school feeding findings that I have not yet published.
But when I consider that the people, who were actually putting the knife at the back of VP Osinbajo were his own party members, his allies who have now turned against him, I realised that it would be foolish for me to do their killing for them.
I also realise that the man is already down and I think they should use their own hands to kill him, because even when you consider it, you will see that his sins, even if everything that they have been bringing out to me is true, it is not up to one per cent of their own sins.
I have done my job as an opposition. I have spoken and I just thought that, that was that.
Yes, the president believed all the stories against him and that’s why the president went ahead to strip him of those responsibilities. But we have moved on to new things.
But since the VP said he would sue you, have you had any encounter with security agencies or nurse any fear that you may be arrested?
No. How can I fear for my life? I don’t need to fear for my life because you should understand the psychology of the game – once you put honesty in all you do in the public space, you don’t need to fear anybody.
I took on the president with regard to the issue of RUGA in a video and that video went viral.
All the accusations were against President Buhari, but he didn’t say he would take me to court because he saw the truth in the video – that RUGA was not anything agricultural.
It was simply a demography alteration scheme and people don’t want to lose their land. And that was why RUGA failed. So, as a member of the opposition, anytime we see something that is wrong, we will speak to it.
So, If you fear for your life, you cannot do the job of speaking out for the people, speaking out with the truth and facts, not making mistakes that Osinbajo made like accusing former President Obasanjo of spending $16 billion on power when he knows very well that all that was spent on that project was $3.9 billion and the things brought in were all secured, bank guaranteed.
And the other day, he was accusing former President Goodluck Jonathan of having shared N15 billion. And when former President Jonathan spoke to me, he was angry.
He said, ‘look at this man, he poured so much dirt on people and when small mud water splashes on his leg, he will start to complain.’
And that’s how we saw it. We thought if Osinbajo didn’t like what he hears from the opposition camp, he should mind the way he speaks about the people in the opposition camp.
He is the only Vice President in Nigeria’s history known to have gone public to disparage and damage the character and names of former presidents. No other former vice president in Nigeria’s history has done this.
But Osinbajo is the only known VP is Nigeria’s history known to have sought to disparage, muddled up and assailed the character of former presidents – President Obasanjo and Jonathan.
And don’t forget that if he is going to do anything, it will be a civil suit and, my plan, I have my papers and my facts. So, if he had tried to sue me, I would counter sue him. That was the ambush I laid for him.
You said you have your papers and documents to prove the allegations…
The allegations are very simple. They just muddled up certain things. The issues about the Federal Inland Revenue Service was taken from the publications in the Vanguard and that is very, very different from the things that I said in the interview that I released.
The video I released was simply an intellectual analysis of the findings from the House of Reps and other things that were in the public space.
And the transcripts of that video are very, very clear. And that’s not a big issue, the House of Reps indictment, Osinbajo did not contest it.
So, as I told you, I was flattered by his reactions. I really was. I’m a gladiator in this field. As a leading voice in the opposition ranks, we will not stop.
I saw his intention as a strategy being played to undermine my sustained inclusion among those that interrogate his participation and his records in politics.
But that will fail. We will continue to interrogate the records of those serving the government.
As a voice of opposition, we will not stop. We have continued to criticise their fraudulent budget, which we have said is simply a document intended to increase consumption taxes across the board and will make it impossible for me to call my elderly relatives without being taxed and or the elderly relatives to call me without being taxed – what they called communication tax.
Nobody will stop us from criticising the behaviours and incompetence in the Presidency. We will continue to do that. If the lawsuit was a strategic lawsuit to prevent public participation in interrogation of their records, it is not going to work.
You said you are also a member of PDP?
Of course, I am a PDP strongman. Today, I am the chairman of the publicity committee of the gubernatorial campaign team of PDP for the Bayelsa election.
So, why should I take the back seat in propagating the will of the opposition? What we say is not up to 10 per cent of what the APC said about us when we were in power.
So, are the allegations ‘fire-for-fire,’ just to pay APC back in their own coins?
Whatever they do, we will give it back to them. My surprise about Osinbajo is that he feels comfortable, pouring hot water on people, but he feels very, very sad people could pour very small cold water on his feet – insulting our leaders like former Presidents Obasanjo and Goodluck, and feeling very uncomfortable when his own names are mentioned.
If he had taken us to court, we would demand the records, all the paper works for all the parastatals that were under his control and you know what that means. And different things will start coming out from FERMA, Border Communities Development Agency, plus the ones we know at the Senate that he signed papers for when President Buhari was ill and not in the country.
We have a lot of records that we have not gone public with. But if he dares us, then, we will go public and speak far more than we have spoken.
We have far more deadly things to reveal. But as I said earlier, it is not for me to do. It is for the APC members, who want to stab the vice president in the back to go and do their job. I’m too decent to do their jobs for them.
Away from Osinbajo, as a member of the campaign team of PDP for Bayelsa election, how confident are you that the PDP will retain the state given the spate of defections from the party ranks to the opposition?
Bayelsa is a PDP state, just as Kogi is a PDP state. But as you know, the APC has been threatening that they will unleash violence. APC is also threatening to do this, do that. They are collecting our members, promising them that if they defect to APC, (Timipre) Silva will do something to better their lives.
And so, those who are economically-challenged are running to them. But in 2015, the PDP had far more defections from its ranks to the APC, but the PDP still won.
And after the PDP won, those people now came back.
So, I think the problem I see in Bayelsa is some people, who historically have that mindset of entitlement, they like to stay and be given things and if the state doesn’t give them, they will like to go to the other side.
But the most important thing in Bayelsa is the struggle. The Izon struggle cannot be done from the armpits of the Miyetti Allah; the Izon struggle cannot be sustained from the backyard of the APC.
The APC is the masquerade against the Izon people, the APC is the masquerade against the Izon struggle. So, that they want to use money and violence to seize the state will not work.
We know their ways and we will counter them, as we did in 2015. Bayelsa is a PDP state and it will remain so. I have no doubt in my mind.
Our rally in Ogbia was beautiful, despite what the newspapers wrote; it was the most successful rally so far. And that was the same place where they were telling us that all our members were trooping to APC. But when we got there, everybody that was expected on the PDP side was there.
So, APC is just involved in disinformation to try and sway minds. I believe people should not take their eyes off the ball.
The Izon struggle can only be maintained and will only come to fruition on the platform of the party that has been with the Izon people all this while – and that is PDP.
The APC does not believe in resource control, restructuring, free markets, as you can see that President Buhari has been very, very uncomfortable, not only with democracy but also market conditions.
You can also see their game on RUGA – Izon don’t have lands, but you can see that they are targeting their elephant grass, which their cows love very much.
So, if the APC people are promising land in Bayelsa, as they are promising in Rivers State, which we have seen them come to use the Army to do, I will simply tell the Izon people in Bayelsa that APC is not good for them. APC will only deceive them and kill their dreams.
But the APC people will argue that all these allegations by the PDP on RUGA, Miyetti Allah and other things are just attempts by the PDP to muddle waters and confuse the people ahead of the election…
I don’t make allegations; I simply want to be led by the facts. We know what is happening right now in Ebonyi State. People coming from Mali, who don’t speak English or Hausa – they speak Bambara and French, they are right now being transported to Ebonyi State.
The other state being targeted for them is Bayelsa State and this is why we are telling the Bayelsa people not to be deceived by people, who want to take their lands and give them to herdsmen, who will come there and start killing them.
We want them not to be deceived by the sweet tongue, money-induced campaign that the APC is doing. You can see that we have spent the past four years of the APC administration, talking about lands and cows.
They are thinking about underground and surface water and that is the target in Bayelsa. Bayelsa is the only state below sea level; it is on water and they are targeting waterways.
Bayelsa had salty water, Bayelsa has fresh water. So, Bayelsa has water, which the cattle wants, Bayelsa has grass, which Miyetti Allah is looking for.
That’s why Bayelsa is being targeted through the APC governorship ticket. And all I will tell the Bayelsa people is not to forget what each party stood for.
But some people are afraid that the election may be marred by violence, given what happened during the primary election…
Violence is the signature activity of the APC and as you can see, they are threatening violence.
They are the one, who engineered the taking away of PDP supporters in Nembe. Today, PDP supporters are not allowed to have peace in several areas of Bayelsa State, including Nembe.
And that’s why we are saying that those people, who have their names in the register in Nembe, in particular, should be allowed to participate in the election. To drive away our people and then write results, as they did the last time will not be acceptable.
Nembe is the only place where, according to the APC, people voted 100 per cent and it was 99 per cent for APC and 0.1 per cent for PDP.
That’s what they wrote and that doesn’t happen like that in any part of the country. That was a result that was gotten by violence and using the Army to chase away our supporters. I’m telling Bayelsa people, Kogi people to reject APC.