By BASHIR ADEFAKA
Few months after All Progressives Congress (APC)’s Presidential Candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu visited him in his Presidential Library Complex residence in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, behind whom the Afenifere queued in the heated struggle against re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, has made up his mind who to support for the 2023 presidential election.
This is if the statement by newly appointed Director General of the Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) of the Labour Party (LP), Prof. Akin Osuntokun, on Channels Television’s Politics Today interview programme Wednesday night is anything to go by.
Osuntokun, a known Nigerian political scientist, strategist, researcher, administrator, journalist and writer that was appointed as a Political Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007, had claimed during his former boss, Obasanjo, is “fully” in support and backing the Labour Party’s candidate, Dr. Peter Obi, for the 2023 presidential election that is left than 60 days from now.
Osuntokun did not just speak, he was asked if Obasanjo is “fully backing” Obi’s campaign, to which he responded with an emphatic “Yes!”
This comes barely 24 hours after the LP announced the former presidential aide as its new presidential campaign DG, following the resignation of Doyin Okupe whom a Federal High Court in Abuja on December 19 found guilt and had convicted for breaching the Money Laundering Act.
Speaking on the former president’s close relationship with him and Okupe, Osuntokun said, “He is a father figure. That’s a better description of the relationship. He’s a father figure to us, not an ‘ally.’ Assuming that what you are saying is correct, am I not qualified for the job? Am I not competent for it?”
Asked if his appointment was based on the recommendation of the former president, Osuntokun said, “You’ll have to ask the presidential candidate, my principal, whether it was an Obasanjo slot and that was how the position was filled.
“Don’t forget that I was the immediate zonal coordinator of the campaign in South-West, so this is essentially an elevation. It is not that I’m just joining the campaign organisation, but if you say that it’s Obasanjo’s slot, people have different perceptions and you’re at liberty to say so.”
The campaign DG argued that the focus should not be on who is behind his appointment, but what he brings to the table.
“Forget about who recommended me or whether I’m filling the slot of somebody. That is not an issue. It’s my capacity and competence to do the job that matters most. If Obasanjo recommends a very competent person who will lead the party to victory, why should I have any issues with that. For me, it’s a non-issue,” he said.
Speaking on Okupe’s removal, Osuntokun described the ouster as a bittersweet experience. According the bitter part has to do with the circumstances of his predecessor’s exit.
“That’s the first judgment I’ve heard that was essentially exculpating the person standing before her. She said it was an honest mistake — that is, the judge, not the lawyer of the defence. (For) the party, in such circumstances, for me, it’s not a good thing.
“He deserves a better exit than that. Nonetheless, life must go on. I’m back to familiar territory. I’m used to presidential campaigns. I like two before — 2003 and 2007 — as political adviser, and as a campaign coordinator for President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011,” he said.
Osuntokun however noted that he is no longer a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), arguing that a party’s campaign organisation must not be confused with the party hierarchy.
“There is a sense of deja vu; when I was appointed the director of publicity by President Obasanjo in 2022, I was not a member of PDP. But once I assume the office, then of course effectively, I’ve become a member of the Labour Party. So, to that extent, I’m a member,” he said.
Osuntokun also addressed the alleged conflict of interest resulting from his name appearing on website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) senatorial candidate for Ekiti central in the 2023 elections.
Asked if he was still in the race for the senatorial seat, he said, “No. I’ve abandoned it if that is what you want to say. The campaign office has issued a press release in that respect. The question you should ask is this, what law have I breached in accepting the appointment? What law has the presidential candidate who appointed me breached in appointing me?
“I can’t help anybody who wants to pursue notoriety as a way of life. The man who is doing this is supposedly the National Publicity Secretary of the Labour Party (Abayomi Arabambi). Ask him, why would a National Publicity Secretary of a party do that to his own party?
“It’s a redundant question. It’s of no consequence at all, whether legally or constitutionally. There is no moral burden at all. Joining the Obi campaign, for me, is a higher national priority than any other aspiration.”