Dr. Tony Akabuno is a co-convener of the Red Card Movement and one of SOTA strategic partners. In this interview with MAKINDE OLUWAROTIMI, he speaks on the qualities expected of a leader in any position, the upcoming elections, among other things.
Tell us about the Red Card Movement…
The Red Card Movement is a citizen-centred movement. It started on the social media on the first week of January and it started because of the killings that were going on in the middle belt mainly Benue State. You recall that just as the year started, there was a lot of massacre and while Nigerians were struggling trying to deal with the gory pictures that surfaced from all the events of attacks on pregnant women with their unborn babies sticking out, we saw on TV the same news and government was not responding adequately, at about the same period, Ministry of Information came on TV to talk on re-election campaign for the president. So, my colleague thought it was enough, and she started twitting and people who were in the same line of thought with her, got together and we thought of issuing a red card symbolically like in a football match as it’s the only way to terminate a player completely during a football match, and that’s how we started strategising and our focus was simple, we wanted to mobilise citizens.
The purpose was to activate the office of the citizens because a lot of people don’t know the office of the citizen is the most powerful, constitutionally; it’s in the constitution that no public officer can get to the seat of power without the citizens, from the local government chairman to the president.
And we have been able to identify that our problem is poor leadership and bad governance. We thought that the best way to tackle it is by resolving leadership crisis, which direct consequence is leadership failure and we can’t do it on our own without the citizens and that is how the mobilisation started. So, red card is primarily about fixing our leadership problem in this country.
What type of leadership structure are you trying to build or what are the criteria for making a good leader in any leadership position at all?
In Nigeria, there hasn’t been any criteria laid out because for some of us in the private sector – entrepreneurs, there is a criteria to give someone a job; to get to the university; you write JAMB and qualify with some credits, but in politics, it’s not so because you just need a god-father that pushes you in and tells you what to do. So, we have now designed leadership criteria called the three ‘Cs’, which means Character, Competence and Capacity. This is because there is no point having a leadership without reputation, integrity, with no emotional intelligence. How can you be a good leader without capacity; how can you lead and this is across board from the presidency to the state governor to the National Assembly to let Nigerians know that if you do not have the three Cs, you can’t attain power. Aside this, we will have a mediocre leadership that will lead no where
Tell us about the Summit Of The Alternatives (SOTA)…
We were going round and we realised we had done some sensitisation because we had regional launches across the states and we thought of the next thing to do. People were interested in talking to us so we started meeting other civil society groups. Surprisingly, everybody embraced what we were doing, the dominant parties in the country, APC and PDP are the problem. We thought that if it’s so, we have over 91 parties and without APC and PDP it’s 88 parties and we want to bring them together. So, we formed alliance with CDD, YIAGA, Nigeria First Project, about 36 of us came together to work with this vision, to hold summit and communicate to citizens about political aspirants. For this two- day summit, they listened to expert speakers on what the new Nigeria of our dream should be, and on the second day we got them together on a panel session. We agreed on the new Nigeria of our dreams and talked to the citizens on how we want to achieve the Nigeria of our dreams. So, when we thought of it, that was what we had in mind. On day one, the place was packed full and citizens kept reaching us, ‘where have you guys been,’ all aspirants where there and they spoke in one language. They agreed it was not a competition but a coalition between them, while APC and PDP disagree, we have the credible alternatives agreeing to form a coalition, a grand alliance and so at the end of the day, they will go to the ballot as one party, agree on one candidate and that is good news for this country. If that is the only thing we achieved, we have succeeded in putting Nigeria on the great map for great leadership in Africa, that is SOTA.
Now that the summit is over, what is next?
We are taking this concept where we allow citizens to take ownership, then we can begin to have SOTA in the states and local government areas. We are driving summit of the alternatives everywhere we want a transformation where we can have the Fela, Kingsley, Martin Ologuns, the Sowores tell themselves the truth and choose the best among the best. Meetings are for citizens to pre-qualify and all from SOTA will throw the weight behind the person.
We want to drive this in the states, not just Abuja, we want to have governors, national assembly members that are credible and competent, we don’t have time, we are going to get our hands dirty.
How do you intend to do this less than five months to the elections?
This is work that has been going on for the past six months, we did presentation, done our arithmetics, so much has been happening underground. When you have a workplan, the election is on February 16, we have crossed the most difficult hurdle, we have the CSOs agree with one common agenda; we have the citizens aligned with our thoughts nobody is arguing, the alternative parties have also agreed and awaiting direction and very soon, we will do that.
How do you intend to get funding?
Moving round the country, having structures in the local governments, holding seminars they have all been funded by the conveners of this project, less than 30 co-conveners because of our patriotic zeal, bearing all this in mind there are things we look at, we look at partnership, knowledge. People have seen and endorsed what we are doing and as we progress, we will discuss funding strategy.
Also, we will work with INEC. The few times I have seen chairman of INEC, I have observed that he is an honest man for the good of the country. We will have a private talk with him and give suggestion on how to avert it. We want to ensure that there is a change in the architecture of polling unit area and make sure there is no commodity because what they were doing is when you vote, someone is there to see who you are voting for. We need to make that process watertight, in that way the person watching voters will not see a commodity to buy, we need to reduce vote trading and possibly eradicate it.
How does SOTA intend to surmount challenges that will be posed by strong parties?
Again the rogue politicians have stolen funds stashed somewhere, the APC and parties. Funds they want to use against the citizens, and they will be giving it to the citizens. You recall that the sitting president had a blank cheque, he won election. As we push forward, we are going to rely on getting our funding right, we will make sure we have the resources to do what we need to do, in our meetings while we also sensitise citizens, we will ensure vote buying is criminalized. So citizens will be aware, so that even when the money is forced on them they can go ahead and vote for the right candidate because the architecture we want to work for is going to be tough but we will achieve it, they are resilient but we are determined.
How do you combine all these with your profession as a medical doctor?
I have been a public speaker right from school, I have held positions as a leader and I studied medicine because I was the best science student back in school. In University of Ibadan where I studied, I was involved in one student unionism or the other. I have been a political strategist and member of sigma club of Ibadan, which is involved in many leadership trainings, where we are taught how to get things done. I have gone into security consultancy, done other things. I slowed down on medical practice because I saw that the country needs intervention and for now I’m forced on political strategy and advocacy until this country arrives at the visionary leadership it’s meant for.
How do we revamp our health sector?
It’s political will, a bigger chunk of the yearly budget should be in health and education but it’s not so, there should be a primary health structure in every ward to take healthcare down to the grassroots, creating enabling environment and medical tourism, which still boils down to leadership.
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