by Segun Odeleye
Whenever Pastor Tunde Bakare, the running mate in 2011 to Muhammadu Buhari, grants an interview, it always is exciting. The one published by The Punch newspaper for their Saturday paper was no different, as Bakare gave the happenings behind the scene in 2011 when he was offered the running mate slot to the General under the Congress for Progressive Change.
Below is an excerpt of the interview:
Have you joined politics again?
I have never joined politics. I am a nation builder, I am not a politician. I sleep well, I wake up well. I have no ambition; there is no desire to be anything in politics. All I want to see is a nation that works. If you ask me today if I am seeking any elective office, my answer will be no. I was asked to be a running mate to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, I was not looking forward to it at all. But if I am beckoned upon to do something, I will pray about it and if I see that it does not negate what I stand for and believe in, why not? The truth is that if good people don’t participate in politics, then we will continue to endure the rule of idiots.
When you were asked to be a running mate, did you ask God about it or did He tell you to go ahead?
Several times Paul would say in the Bible that “this is I speaking but not the spirit of God even though I have the spirit of God in me.” With every sense of modesty, a man like me would not jump without looking. If you don’t look and you leap, you can leap into disaster that would backfire on you and everything you stand for in the society. When my book is out, it would be clear to all the process it took for me to be a running mate.
I sat in my house, leading a group called Arrow Heads which is already public knowledge after Mallam Nasir El-Rufai wrote about it in his book, ‘Accidental Public Servant.’ We gathered a group of Nigerians we felt could make a change in our clime. People like Oby Ezekwesili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Donald Duke, Nasir El-Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu, Fola Adeola, Jimi Lawal, Yinka Odumakin, Jimi Agbaje, Wale Osun and a few others. We said to ourselves that we should form the Arrow Heads to produce a change. And when I was given the privilege of being the chairperson of that group, I told them I would only accept on two conditions. Number one, that I would not join any political party and number two, I would not seek any elective office so that if there is a dispute, I can effectively resolve it. Those around me know that I have no desire for a political office but those who don’t know me think I am an opportunist. Gen. Buhari called me on January 15 of that year and said, that he had done his own little prayers and he wanted to ask me to be his running mate. I told him I couldn’t because I lead a group and I had given them my word and that my word is my bond. I also told him that I had no desire for a political office; all I wanted to see was a change and be among those who work behind the scene. So, Gen. Buhari asked me to pray about it that he would get back to me. Within six or seven hours, he called back and I told him that I had not consulted my people. The first person I called among others was my wife and daughter and then spoke to Pastor Adeboye twice on it.
Yes…you see people don’t know things that happen behind the scene. I spoke to him twice and he said look, don’t be afraid, step in there, whether you win or lose, God is taking you somewhere. I didn’t jump because of that. I spoke to my mother and she said she had a dream about it six months before; I still didn’t jump. I thought it would be unfair not to tell Bola Tinubu because I had been brokering some things between the then Action Congress and the Congress for Progressive Change before the AC became ACN. So, I called Tinubu in the presence of Jimi Agbaje and Yinka Odumakin. I said to him that Gen. Buhari had called to offer this, give me a Christian from your group so that I can present to him. I invited the former governor of Ekiti State, Niyi Adebayo to my house and told him that he would be a better person to handle this. Both of us were in the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos at the same time. So, I looked for every way not to take Buhari’s offer and I didn’t fill the form. I took my team and went to the General and asked him why he wanted me to be his running mate. He said three things, “your passion for Nigeria. You have been a Muslim before, you are a Christian now. You have lived in the North, you were born in the South, you understand the geography and I think you can be a positive influence to pull the nation together. Number two, your integrity, number three, supposing I die in office like Yar’Adua, I want someone who would not sell out, who would still continue my vision for this country.” Still, I didn’t fill the form.
I went to El-Rufai’s house, we sat down there and he encouraged me to take it and I said I was not taking it. I told him I needed to clear a particular thing in my heart. Everyone who had been assistant to Gen. Buhari died before him. Tunde Idiagbon is gone, Okadigbo is gone, Ume-Ezeoke is gone, why do I want to go and put my head in a death sentence. I need to know what is responsible for that, so I can’t just jump, I will need to pray through. I told Gen. Buhari the same thing I am saying now.
The day before the final submission of names, former President Olusegun Obasanjo told El-Rufai that he was ready to support Buhari if he could drop me and replace me with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as his running mate. El-Rufai ran to me, that this was what Obasanjo said. The three of us were in the same hotel but in different suites. We went straight to Gen. Buhari and I said to him that breakthrough had come. I told him I had not filled the form and that there were five reasons why he must take Okonjo-Iweala. Number one, she is Delta-Igbo, you would have solved the problem of South-East/South-South. Number two, she’s a woman, you have settled the gender issue. Number three, Christian, balanced ticket. Number four, a former minister of finance and former minister of external affairs, experience which I don’t have. Number five, World Bank top executive, international exposure. Even though I have travelled round the world, I have not worked in any organisation, she is a better candidate. This is the form, I have not filled it. General Buhari looked at me and said did Obasanjo speak to you and I said no that he spoke to El-Rufai and I believe him. And he asked El-Rufai to repeat everything Obasanjo said to him and he did. He said to El-Rufai that well, you have worked with him and I have worked with him too, he would have something up his sleeves which we don’t know. Buhari turned to me and said, Pastor Bakare, I have waited long enough and today is the last day, if you are not going to fill the form, give it to me, I will look for someone until we can get a person like you. At that point, I became overwhelmed and I signed the form and El-Rufai seconded. That was the process; it was not an overnight thing.
Do you have any regrets accepting that offer?
Not at all. If I have the chance, I will do it again. Buhari is an incorruptible leader. He is a man whose word is his bond. He is a reliable person and he loves this country. I don’t flatter people and you know I fought almost all military impostors in this country; there was a time I couldn’t stand any of them. But getting close to him, I realised he loves Christians as much as he loves Muslims.
For those who said why Buhari? I remember Adunni Abimbola Adelakun, she wrote why can’t Bakare run as President? Why do you have to be a running mate? I just laughed when I read that. Don’t forget that Joseph served Pharaoh, Daniel served Nebuchadnezzar, and we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, so you can maintain contact without contamination. Anything that would contribute to the wellbeing of the people of this country, as much as God gives me the grace, I would do it.
You just spoke glowingly about Buhari, is that why you said if that suicide attempt on his life had succeeded it would have caused commotion in the country?
Whichever way you look at it; Gen. Buhari has succeeded in stepping into the shoes of the likes of the founding fathers of this nation. It is like killing Awo in the West in those days. They jailed him but they dare not kill him. Look at the repercussions of what happened when Saudana was killed. It is like shooting Azikiwe. A time comes when people have such a large followership that you have to be careful about them. Gen. Buhari registered a party and went to contest for election after three months and had 12 million votes. I have seen the people following him running towards a moving plane. He is not loved because he has money to pay them, he doesn’t give a dime to anybody. Buhari does not have such money, he does not have a petrol station, and he has no oil well even after being a petroleum minister and former head of state. There was a time he took his children to public schools. Obasanjo investigated him with Haruna Adamu, and didn’t find anything against him.
Why didn’t you move with him Buhari to the All Progressives Congress?
A strategic man takes his time. I moved the motion for the merger of the parties publicly at Eagles Square. I worked tirelessly for that merger to materialise. But when you perceive that your presence, whether you speak or stay quiet, affects some of the people who think you are ambitious, you leave the stage for them. If you ask me if I am in APC, Buhari knows I am in Daura APC, not Ogun State, Oyo or Lagos State so that those functioning can be free to function without fearing that this man might have an ambition and might still want to be a running mate. I have had my fair share.
In 2012 you were quoted as saying that Jonathan was on a mission to ruin Nigeria, two years later do you still feel the same way?
You do not separate a statement and body of facts that led to that statement. President Jonathan himself is a victim of circumstances. Who groomed him for what he is doing? I think he has had to learn on the job. Whether he is learning fast or is taking his time, is for others to comment. I marched on the streets of Abuja, Lagos, led Save Nigeria Group in different campaigns for him to become Acting President and he subsequently became the President of Nigeria. He is alive, if I have taken a dime from him for anything, he can say. Not that they would not want to be a blessing to me but I don’t take. My hands have provided enough for me. I am contented. I have had the privilege of sitting with the President this year about five times and it is always about how to move the nation forward. I remember when the President wanted to see me; I called Gen. Buhari immediately to inform him about the invitation because I don’t double-deal. I am a loyal person and I made the President know that I informed Gen. Buhari before coming for that particular meeting. The things he said to me are not for now; they would come out at the appropriate time. I think Jonathan is honestly doing his best but history would judge whether his best is good enough. The Nigerian issue is complex. It requires a level of capability and dynamism and that is not common among the current politicians.