Dr. Adetokunbo Pearse, a former Senior Lecturer at the Institute of African and Diaspora Studies, University of Lagos, Southwest Nigeria, and one-time Associate Professor, Department of African Studies, Brooklyn College in New York, is a chieftain of the country’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He’s also a public affairs analyst. He lived and worked in the United States from 1986 to 2006, and was actively involved in politics, working on the campaign teams of several congressmen and of former Governor of New York, George Pataki.
In Nigeria, Dr. Pearse worked as the campaign manager of Mrs. Funso Williams in the 2007 Lagos governorship poll. After the failed bid of Mrs. Williams to contest on the platform of PDP in 2007, Dr. Pearse decamped to the Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) where he was appointed a member of the powerful Governor Advisory Council, otherwise known as the GAC. He thereafter fell out with Tinubu and returned to the PDP. He was the Director-General of the Lagos State for the re-election bid of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. He had a brief stint in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) where on October 4, 2018, he was returned unopposed and declared as the governorship candidate of the party for the 2019 governorship poll in Lagos State. He is currently holding sway in the PDP, as Nigeria prepares for the next general elections in 2023.
Dr. Pearse, the Convener, Reset Lagos, in an interview with Timescape Magazine’s Taiwo Adelu, reveals much on the politicking that saw him dumping the National Leader of Nigeria’s ruling party, All Progressive Congress (APC) Bola Ahmed Tinubu, due to what he described as ‘betrayal of trust’. He dissects the presidential ambition of Mr. Tinubu and declares emphatically that the former Governor of Lagos State has a herculean task on his hand as it would be difficult for him to get to the position of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Dr. Pearse also speaks extensively on the kind of person the current Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari is and some other critical issues pertaining to the unity of the country.
In the excerpts of this must-read interview published below, Dr. Pearse begins by talking about his academic background and how he transitioned into politics.
It’s not really a transition because I have a PhD in English with an emphasis in Black Studies and Culture, Afro American, and Afro Caribbean. My field is in the humanities and anybody in the humanities field is always concerned with society and its conditions, development, and so on. So, it’s never really been a transition from one to the other. I mean if you look at the kind of books, we use to teach our students, they discuss politics, social development, human conditions, and the likes. During my twenty-year stay in the United States, I was teaching and was always also involved in politics. In 2004, I ran for Congress in Brooklyn, New York and after that, I was appointed into several positions in the government. I held the position of Director of Community Relations and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Office of the Clerk of Cook County, Chicago. I was named to these positions due to my concern for human beings and society, which has always been my priority, and when I was at the University of Lagos, I never stopped doing politics. I was always a political consultant and public affairs analyst, and nobody ever bothered me because I was a teacher at the university.
You were a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and later the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), what caused this defection?
When I came back from the United States in 2006 towards the end of the year, I intended to work with the late Funsho Williams, unfortunately, he was killed two weeks after. Don’t forget that he was the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate at the election in Lagos State then, and when he died, I was made the campaign manager for his wife, Mrs. Williams. We were told by the party that if a female aspirant emerged from the primaries, there won’t be any run-off. She ran against five or six other candidates and came first with a simple majority, Musiliu Obanikoro came second. It was a surprise that suddenly, the party changed its rule and said there would be a run-off. So, in the run-off, we managed to beat Obanikoro one-on-one and in fact, Mrs. Williams was announced as the winner of the primaries, surprisingly, the next day, they turned the table around again and gave the nomination to Obanikoro.
That injustice forced many of us to leave the PDP for ACN controlled by Tinubu, and I was one of the people who left PDP at that time frustrated by the anti-democratic way of the party. I went to ACN mainly because I was invited by Bola Ahmed Tinubu who told me that if the PDP was being too unfair to me, I should quit and join him in the ACN, and again Babatunde Raji Fashola who became the candidate of the ACN for the election in 2007 happened to be a family friend. He (Fashola) called me that now that I was in the country after all these years to help my friend Funsho Williams to improve the quality of life of Lagosians, and he was killed, I should join hands with him to help solve the problems of Lagos as I would have helped Williams. So, I went to him and worked on his campaign.
We had a pre-election talk and he promised that if he won the election, he would find a position for me to contribute my quota to the government of the state. To be sincere with Fashola, every time he tried to do something for me, Tinubu always truncated his efforts, and as you know Fashola was a fantastic and performing governor for the first four years of his first term, but Tinubu never allowed him to rest. There was always one thing or the other to frustrate him. He fought so hard to get a second term. It was in the middle of Fashola’s second term that I told Tinubu that since I wasn’t given any post in the government, I would like to run for the House of Representatives, and he did assure me that I had his support only for him to later bring someone from somewhere else and imposed him on us in the local government and my ambition was truncated.
Tinubu’s move frustrated me so much so that I wanted to leave, but they appointed me as one of the members of the powerful Governor’s Advisory Council, which is popularly called the GAC. Unfortunately, and unknown to the people, this Council was a rubber stamp for Tinubu who always used members to do his bidding. I always spoke against what most members regarded as no-go areas in our deliberations especially the plan not to give Fashola a second term ticket ahead of the 2011 gubernatorial election. The position of Tinubu and other GAC members was that Fashola would not be given the ticket. What was the reason for denying someone people saw as the best governor the ticket to come back? Nothing except that Tinubu had other plans and people who opposed him like me were punished. One of the best Senators was removed unceremoniously because he didn’t go with the party and since they didn’t give me anything in the party, I had to leave and go back to the PDP with the hope that things would get better that way. This is where I am now.
Nigerians clamored for change in 2015 and voted Muhammadu Buhari as the President, but the Change is now haunting us, how would you react to this?
Two things happened simultaneously then. Don’t forget that in 2015, PDP had been in power for 15 years and you know whenever you have been in power for a long time you tend to become complacent and you make many mistakes, and unfortunately, the president at that time, Goodluck Jonathan got a lot of things wrong. Many of his supporters in the North told him that they won’t support him because he had done six years in office at that point and if he had won the election, it would have made it 10 years in office, which is more than two terms, but he used the power of incumbency to get the PDP ticket to contest, and they were forced to accept him. During that time, Tinubu forged his alliance with other political parties to form a merger to produce All Progressive Congress (APC). They hired some professional propagandists from the United States and lied to Nigerians. They built up the image of Buhari as a man of steel, incorruptible, a soldier and Nigerians bought into it. It was the propaganda that everyone saw. But when I did my research, I saw that Buhari was likely to be a bad president. I knew that though Jonathan might be very bad for some reasons, Buhari would be worse, and I am happy he has proved it to the worse now.
What are those things you see in Buhari that made you predict what Nigerians are experiencing under his government now?
From my own discipline, as a humanist, researcher, and analyst, there is no leader, especially those who have been in office for a while that you cannot predict. You study them well and see who they are. Buhari has been in office before as a military head of state. I heard that Buhari didn’t pass the Command School exam. I looked at his academic background and said to myself that this man, I did not think he has the intellectual capacity to run a country like Nigeria. When he was the Head of State in 1983, all he did was impose colonial laws on the people, and he had no respect for democracy. All he knew was if you do something wrong you were going to be disciplined, and yet his own record shows that he was not such a disciplined person. When he was Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, money was disappearing under his nose. He had a record of a man who doesn’t know how to control the economy. Then, he had one which is also very clear to everyone – he is a wicked soul, a wicked, selfish individual who is not sensitive to the nature of the country.
When he was Head of State, we saw how he would favor one group against the other. His own people could never be wrong. There was an Emir that brought him loads of money and about that time the Afrobeat king, the late Fela Anikulapo was jailed when he was found with $3,000. When this man was Head of State, the Lagos State Government had already negotiated a metro rail project, he canceled it. He never bothered that the Nigerian government had to pay heavy penalties to the company that got the contract. He didn’t care because he didn’t want Lagos to have the project.
That is Buhari’s mentality. We saw how people died in jail, went blind. This is a man that believes that criminals shouldn’t be defended in court. To him, if you are said to have committed a crime, you are guilty even without being interrogated. That was him when he was the Head of State, and so when he became a civilian president, it was obvious he would do the same thing and there was nothing we couldn’t predict and any time there was an election, I always told people to do research on this man, run a background check, you will find out the truth. That is how I knew about where we find ourselves today.
Security is gone, nowhere is secured in the country. I don’t know if you saw recently that the northern elders’ forum has denied Buhari. They said he hasn’t been able to fulfill his promises. He never told us that his government would be fair. To him, every appointment must come from the north, particularly from the northwest. Buhari has failed because he doesn’t have the capacity and the goodwill to do anything. Equity in governance is something that you can do without competence. It’s just goodwill. It’s your mindset. So, even if you are not trained in the field of economics and security, at least you will still be fair in your appointments. Buhari has failed us in all these three. This is the worst administration in the history of Nigeria and Buhari is the most despicable president in our history.
As a former political ally and an insider, do you think Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s ambition to succeed Buhari at the 2023 general election can come to reality?
The issue of succession in 2023 is very interesting. You will notice that since the 2014 National Conference, there has been this agitation for the country to restructure. So, 2023 is unique in the sense that we have had eight years of a tragic government and people have suffered a lot. People are being killed and you can’t even travel by road. Nowhere is safe, herdsmen all over the place, and then the economy is in shambles. The Naira has lost its value like never before. Here we are and everyone is saying that the only one way out now is to restructure the way we run the government.
Now, the states do not have the power to make their own laws. There must be decentralization of governmental powers, and there must be diversification of the economy. We cannot rely on just oil. It has proved to be fatal. That’s why we are always short of money and even the small money we have, the politicians are stealing from it. We should diversify the economy, we have gold in many states, phosphate, bitumen, Enugu axis in the southeast has natural gas and bauxite in the north-central. We have uranium, copper and so many other minerals around the country. Unfortunately for us, the 1999 constitution has made it difficult for states to explore and market their natural resources. Every resource is on the exclusive list. You cannot do a land survey without permission from the federal government and that is one of the problems we are having, and we are hoping that whoever becomes the next president will consider restructuring the government. It’s not the question of more states because they don’t function but empowering the states, we have so that they can take care of themselves. You know that there’s a direct correlation between insecurity and poverty, so if we can solve our economic problem to a greater extent the security situation will also improve.
Is it possible for Mr. Tinubu to be president of Nigeria?
Nothing is impossible in politics. I remember when he pushed his wife as the Senator of Lagos Central Senatorial District, and he aligned with other people to form the APC. He got these done. All those things he did in the past, he achieved them with a different political climate but now, I think the climate has changed and is not in his favour. He used to have a firm grip on the southwest of the country, but not now, even the states where APC is in control are not within his reach. Ekiti is shaking, Ondo and Oyo states are shaking apart from Osun and Lagos states. And now, I think Lagos is very shaky, as many people who are upset with him are determined to leave APC and find their way into PDP or do something else. I think he cannot say he oversees Lagos anymore. He is amassing a lot of wealth through Governor Babajide Sanwo Olu who is more like his personal assistant and the Governor is not going to help him because he is going to lose two to three Senate seats, and likely in this 2023 election, he is going to lose for the first time in 20 years.
So, how he will now be able to win the presidency in these circumstances is very doubtful. In the primaries of the APC now, 58 percent of the delegates are from the north. People think he has a lot of money to buy people to vote for him in the primaries, and I don’t think he will win, but if he does, it will be a ‘pyrrhic victory’. My thinking is that the northern APC will desert him. As it is now, a lot of people in the north do not want a Tinubu Presidency and in the south, we are going to argue because it’s not a question of the north and south but a question of his personality, as I said about Buhari. Tinubu is the embodiment of corruption, moral corruption, physical corruption, political corruption. That is humanistic decay. Here is a man who will want to get rid of, or try to impeach sitting governors because they are performing too much in Lagos, that the governor is doing too much and spending too much money on development. He wants the money for himself and there’s no morality in anything that he does.
Tinubu wants to be president, his wife is a Senator, he wants his son to be governor in Lagos, his daughter is the Iyaoloja (head of markets) in Lagos, he wants everything. He is greedy and that kind of powermonger is very dangerous to occupy the seat as the president of Nigeria, and I don’t even think he has the health to carry on. You can say Buhari is sick, but Buhari was not sick before he got into government. It was only when he got to the government that we saw that he is a dying man. Tinubu, as we know, is dying as it is now. He can hardly walk, and he wants to be president, and there’s a lot of corruption in Nigeria because of him. I will bet that this man is not going anywhere with this presidential ambition of his.
Can you access the government of Sanwo-Olu in Lagos State?
I happened to have been involved with him during his campaign. It was during one of the debates ahead of the 2019 gubernatorial election in Lagos state. I picked the ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). I met Sanwo-Olu a few times during the debates and all I could see during the debates was that he was not a stable character, very nervous and intellectually weak, but the worst part of it is that he is just a Tinubu apologist. Anytime you say anything about Tinubu, he is not happy about it. He would attack you. I don’t think Sanwo-Olu has come to serve Lagos, but Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Since he assumed office, all we know Sanwo-Olu has done better is to cover up whenever there’s a problem in Lagos State.
Take for example the incident of ENDSARS protest, not only was he guilty of the attack on the young people, sending the military to gun them down, he came back and tried to pretend nothing ever happened. The worst thing he did for me was when he wanted to get the Lagos State Assembly to enact a law that will prevent the state from investigating Tinubu’s economic atrocities. So, he is covering up for his master, Tinubu, and all the money he is supposed to be spending on development they are amassing in readiness for the 2023 election. It is common knowledge, that’s why he is not spending money on anything. The State is generating a lot of revenue every day and we are not seeing the difference.
I want you to know that something great is happening within the PDP which has not happened for a long time, and as we move into 2023, we are seeing the influx of people from APC and not just quantity but quality people. You see, they have expressed their dissatisfaction with the corruption in the APC-led administration in Lagos State. I think this movement is a project to liberate Lagos State and many more people are coming.
We are also fighting hard to make sure the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) issues our PVC (voter’s card) to make sure that people can vote. We have seven million registered voters in Lagos State and only 1.5 million PVCs have been issued out. If the other PVCs are released, we will have enough people to vote APC out of power. We are sure that the number of people coming into the PDP from the APC will guarantee victory for the PDP in 2023 and by the grace of God, we will have a God-fearing administration, efficient men, and women in office with the moral commitment to improving Lagos.
A Southern Nigerian self-determination group, the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination (NINAS) came out to say that Nigeria’s problems started from the 1999 Constitution and the group is clamouring for a repeal of the Constitution. Do you subscribe to this?
I understand where they are coming from. You probably notice that I mentioned the 1999 constitution earlier on that it has created a lot of problems for us as a people. Unless we change it, we cannot achieve any good results. The 1999 Constitution is a military constitution that has a stronghold on our development and has centralized control over security and the economy. If we do not have a rethink of that 1999 Constitution, we cannot move forward. So, I understand that until we review that Constitution it doesn’t make sense to hold an election. However, since it’s difficult to say you will not hold an election when the time is due, I think that we should make sure that whoever becomes president is fully committed to the restructuring of Nigeria and the person must not be as tribalistic as President Buhari and must not be an illiterate like him.