The 2019 general election is round the corner. And one of the main actors in the unfolding political drama is the youthful looking debonair ex-governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke. He indeed doesn’t look much like an everyday politician, but give it to Duke; he’s been in the corridors of power since he was in his early 30s.
He readily agrees that he has been blessed. “At 33 I was already a Member of the National Economic Council, and at 37 I was a governor:” a position that he held for eight years! Duke hopes to be the Nigerian President soon and he believes that he is the bridge between the young and the elderly politicians.
In this interview with Paul Ukpabio, the ex-governor shares with us the issues that led him into declaring to participate in the forthcoming elections, the reason why the first Nigerian coup failed and why he thinks the youths are not ready yet to take over the presidency.
We are expecting a new dispensation next year and from all indications, you are ready to be fully part of it. Why the interest?
Like you’ve said, it should be a new dispensation. But if APC and PDP are going to be part of it, then it is not going to be a new dispensation. With them, we would be having different sides of the same coin. And that is where the problem is because the narrative about Nigeria must change. You know you can’t do the same thing all over again and again and keep expecting a different result. We just have to try a different thing. Even if I ran on the platform of the PDP, as a president, I would have already been shackled by the establishment! The energy I would have used in fixing the country, I would be using to unshackle myself from the party. And they will bring you down. I have experienced it. If I succeeded in Cross River State, it was because I was unfettered. I saw ex-President Jonathan, even when he had the best intentions, he was fettered.
So, why I’m I interested? We all appreciate that Nigeria could do a lot better. We realise that we need our leadership question resolved. When I saw the actors that came forward, I knew that we would not get any resolution. So, I knew that something different must be presented. It is something I aspire for, to give the people an option so that they are not limited to the two known personalities but that the electorates can have a third option and even a fourth option as six out of every ten Nigerians are looking for something new.
Why the presidency?
They say when fish rots it is from the head. And when you want to solve the problem you go to the head. So, I have come to solve the problem so I’m going to the head. I have been a governor so I can’t be a governor again. Moreover, that is not where the problem is. The National Assembly is a talk-shop and the folks there are not there on ideology or principle. They are there because they feel it is a logical step in their political career. I am not for that. If I wanted to be in the Senate, I would have been there since 2007. For me, I am in politics because I want to make a difference. If I can’t make a difference in politics, I can go to the private sector and try and make a difference there. But my life must be distinguished by something. So that when my epitaph is being written, it will state that I touched lives. Not that I went through life ordinarily.
What prospects do you see of Nigerians voting you in 2019?
It is as good as it can be. I said earlier that Nigerians are looking for something different. The challenge is for me to convince them that I am that better alternative. We are all dissatisfied with what we have. There is no part of this country that is not dissatisfied. The far north is dissatisfied; the middle belt is dissatisfied, same with the south. We rejected PDP barely four years ago. Nothing has happened to make PDP to be different from what they were then. They are shackled by a culture. The APC is also shackled. You can see that Mohammadu Buhari, with all the things he said that he would do, he couldn’t do it because to do it will be to go to war against the primary members of his party. So he has been shackled and will not be able to do it in the second term either because these people are the vested interests that brought him to power so he can’t take them out. So one needs a platform where one can without fear or favour tackle the problems bedeviling the country. Buhari’s corruption drive is itself corrupted. He can only take on those who are not in his ambit. APC is actually a mixture of APC, PDP and so many others. And he can’t do anything about the folks that are corrupt in his party. He can only muzzle those that are outside his party. So those people found out the way to go around it by joining Buhari’s party. We have seen examples in a few states. I don’t want to mention names. We have to create a system to curb or prevent corruption because you cannot totally eradicate corruption. It is just like trying to stop people from telling lies, it is difficult but you can stem it and make it unattractive. In Nigeria, corruption is very attractive because the chances are that you will not be caught. Besides that, the country itself encourages you to be corrupt because there are too many people in want. Even people who have jobs, their ends don’t meet, so they are prone to compromise the system to make ends meet.
How difficult was it for you to emerge as the SDP Presidential candidate?
That was an interesting experience. I joined the SDP in August this year, and it already had established aspirants within the party. But this is what really gave me the conviction that people want something different. We engaged them within 24 hours, we spoke to them frankly. The delegates are in different states, we didn’t tour the states, we waited for them to come to Abuja and we engaged them. That gives me a conviction that this country is looking for something different. The people are tired of establishment. They are seeking for somebody who has a solution for their problems. Even when they had aspirants who could deliver, they made a change when they found a suitable alternative. And I am convinced that that is a microcosm of what is in Nigeria today. So now the challenge for the SDP and for me as a candidate is to convince Nigeria that I am able and ready. I have already convinced them that I am willing by being a candidate but I have to show them now that I am able and ready to resume office on the 29th of May 2019.
How strategic would you say is the choice of Dr. Junaid Mohammed as your running mate?
Dr. Junaid is an old horse if I may describe him as such; he has been involved in the politics of the north and of his region the North West for a long time. He is also a well-known critic of Buhari based on principles. He was once a supporter of Buhari. He was also a critic of Jonathan. The strategy there is that he is from a region that is looking for someone whose word is his bond.
As Governor of Cross River State, you were considered to have had a good score card; how will that reflect on the presidency when you are voted in?
At least my experience in Cross River State shows that I can do something but there are people there who have never done anything, yet they want to be president. Someone said to me some time ago that Nigeria is not Cross River! I replied him that I agree, at least I did something, these other people, what have they done?” I asked the person.
You are still young considering the other two candidates in the two major parties; what does age has to do it?
Still young? In those days I used to wake up and jump out of bed but now I wake up and look before slowly getting out of bed. You know there is the clamour for a youth president and I think I can speak for both sides of the argument. I was young when I was a governor. I was also a Commissioner at 30, so I can say I am blessed. When I was governor at age 37, I worked from 8am till 3am. No one could cope with the schedule. People were breaking down one after the other. It is an insane way of doing things but things were then so bad that it needed that sort of drive. That also reminds me of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo when he was in power. He had such kind of drive; he was working for over 18 hours of the day. True, there is the virility in youth, but it has to be coated with experience. If it is just youth and all the energy and no experience or wisdom behind it, it becomes a very dangerous, potent weapon. We have seen that in Nigeria before. The first coup Nzeogwu, Ifejuna and the rest; we saw the youths at that point with virility but no experience. If they had experience, they wouldn’t have done what they did. They committed error. They wanted to eliminate some areas; they didn’t know that in Nigeria you have to balance things. You cannot just take the North and West and leave the East out. Or better still, why kill? They could have still realised their objectives without killing. That was lack of experience which led to civil war which we still have not recovered from till today. So, I am in support of youths in government but they must have had experience. I am lucky I am literally a good student of history and I have a good knowledge of the country.
So what should the youths do?
At 33 I became a Member of the National Economic Council, so I was gathering experience. So when I was a governor, I had a good background of the state and the country. A lot of these folks are not so fortunate and it’s not their fault, the fault is ours, for not exposing them early enough. And whether you expose them or not, sooner or later, they will take charge. Before you know it, it will become their turn. And if you do not prepare them before they take over, there will be a problem. So, the youths need to be prepared. It is like the family at home; if the children at home are not exposed, if you don’t train them, one day you will be gone and they will be forced to take over but since they were not equipped, there will be problems. Just as in a company, you prepare for succession. The nation has to prepare for succession; it is inevitable. We have not done that so today; we are hanging over two septuagenarians, asking which one is better. These people are in their 70s in a country where the average lifespan is 50