INTERVIEW: I didn’t step down for Osinbajo during APC primary because he’s a fellow pastor, says Nicolas Felix
At 37, Nicolas Felix, a United States-based Nigerian pastor of the Miracle Church International, contested the 2019 presidential election under the Peoples Coalition Party (PCP) and he came third behind President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. In June, at the age of 40, the Edo-born politician was the youngest presidential hopeful of the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the ruling party’s primary election. But he stepped down for Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; while Bola Tinubu, a chieftain of the APC, eventually won the primary election.
In this interview with TAIWO ADEBULU
, Felix spoke about his decision to contest the 2023 presidency under the APC and the controversy surrounding the Muslim-Muslim ticket adopted by the party.
TheCable: Do you have a strong political structure in your home state?
Yes, we do have a political structure. I visited the three senatorial districts in my state and we do have coordinators everywhere. We are doing some work, we keep building. On September 3, I’ll be in my hometown for a thank-you tour. I’ll be visiting several cities. So, we do have a strong political structure and it is getting better daily.
In the 2019 election, you came third to the surprise of so many political observers in the country. That shot you into the limelight. What did you do to achieve such a feat?
In 2019, we did a lot of grassroots campaigns, we weren’t so much on the social media or the mainstream media; it was basically one on one campaign, reaching out to people.
We held several meetings that were not publicised on social media. In April 2018, I flew all our state coordinators from the entire 36 states to Abuja, and they were there with me for about two days for a meeting. Then, it was quite interesting when I poured out my heart to them about what the vision is, they went running with it.
We did some work. The reason people didn’t see some of our programmes was because we didn’t put them on social media. We did a lot of grassroots campaigns which is the way to get votes as we all know.
TheCable: You abandoned your former party, Peoples Coalition Party (PCP), to join the APC. Why?
There were several reasons. At the beginning of the campaign, we had issues that have to do with demands for money. And from there, they wanted me to join a coalition which I refused. I even released a statement to that effect.
After the election, they wanted to come and meet the current administration for negotiations for positions which I refused because that was not why I came out.
As a result, I left the party or let me say, I was expelled from the party because I refused to yield to their bidding. But I had initially left before the party decided to do what they did. So, this has nothing to do with just APC. This issue happened in 2019, after the general election.
Also, even though we had some talks here and there like you know, the party was deregistered. Joining the APC was important because we needed the platform and structure to be able to get the job done.
As the youngest presidential aspirant in the APC, people expected you to have a good fight at the primaries. But you ended up stepping aside. What informed this decision?
We went into the contest to fight and I believe we fought. But, as you know, the time we had was too short, there was not enough time. We had a different plan. If you look at the primary election, they use to be in October and November.
So, our intention was to move around between May and October, the day of the primary election. We would be able to visit different states, visit delegates and do a lot of the party politics. But, unfortunately, the time wasn’t there. We had less than a month to do all the running around from the day we declared our intention. So the time was really short, and we didn’t get to meet with all the delegates. We only went to about three or four states — Edo, Nassarawa, Lagos and Abuja.
There wasn’t enough time to do what we needed to do. So, when it became obvious that this might not be possible, as an organisation, we had to be truthful to ourselves. We had to look for who is going to be the best candidate, the best man for the job. Who do we think is capable of handling the current issues we have in Nigeria? We narrowed it down to his excellency and we were able to join our support.
Mind you, part of what we are fighting for is for the voice of the youth to be heard. We asked ourselves, who is the best person that we know that the youths would be involved heavily in his administration and that person was the vice-president. Hence, we decided as an organisation to support him in the primaries and the general election. Unfortunately, that did not happen in the primary election.
Did you step down for Osinbajo because he is a pastor like you?
No, when it comes to politics, I don’t do pastor or non-pastor things. It has nothing to do with being a pastor. If you check the record, in 2019, even though I was on the ballot, three days before the election, I did join forces with Atiku. Atiku is a northerner and a Muslim.
Then, it was obvious that one of the two major parties would win, and we had to make a decision. Supporting Osinbajo has nothing to do with him being a pastor. It is about who is the best man for the job, it has nothing to do with religion. He was capable. He has been the vice-president for the past seven years. He understands what is going on. A few years ago, when the president travelled for about three months, he became the acting president and we saw a lot of changes in just three months.
When Tinubu won the primaries, you congratulated him and pledged support for his election. Has he reached out to you as he did to other aspirants?
When he won, I congratulated him that same and pledged my support for him. Unfortunately, he has not reached out to me yet. I’ve been the one reaching out to them. The only message we got from one of them was very insulting. So, I’m very sceptical at this point if his administration will accommodate the youth. That is the truth of the matter. We were 23 aspirants and he reached out to all of them, except me. Even though I have stretched a hand of friendship to them, they have refused. I believe Asiwaju is not aware of what is going on.
What’s your stand on the Muslim-Muslim ticket being promoted by the APC? Do you think this will make or mar the chances of the party next year?
My stand has been clear from day one. A Muslim-Muslim ticket is not the way to go. I know they may have their reasons which some of us are assuming. They gave the reason for competence, but Shettima is not the only competent person. I know there are northern Christian politicians who are as competent as Shettima. The country is hight polarised and predominantly driven by religion, even more than ethnicity. Even if religion is not important, they wouldn’t have chosen him. But we to look at the advantages and disadvantages of same faith ticket.
For me, it is more of the attitude towards the decision. I feel like they are shoving it down our throats and expect us to just buy it. They don’t even care how we feel. That is what is more worrisome in the whole situation. They are not doing anything to make people understand their choice. I hope in weeks to come, they will be able to get this right. For now, this Muslim-Muslim ticket, we are not finding it funny at all. I’m fully in support of the party, but it doesn’t mean when we see something that is wrong, we should not speak out. No. We joined the party not to be cowards.
Since you could not clinch the APC ticket, what’s the next step for Nicholas Felix?
I shuffle between the US and Nigeria. I’m going to join the party in campaigning for the general election. I’ve congratulated the flag bearer. I’m not quitting politics because I’m in it to offer solutions and serve. We are strategising and my campaign organisation is putting so much in place and when the time is right, we will launch our campaign heavily and win.
So, when are you coming back to contest the presidency again?
I’m coming back when the time is right. We have seen and learnt so much. We are already meeting. Although the primary just ended, we are already having meetings and consulting. We are strategising and I will come back with full force to contest for the presidency in the near future. When that is, we are not too sure yet.
What’s your vision for Nigeria?
My vision for Nigeria is straightforward and clear. We must improve the security system in Nigeria. We must provide accessible healthcare for the citizens. Also, we need to create jobs for the youth who are graduating from higher institutions with no jobs. They are on the streets because there are no jobs. In creating employment, we need to create factories. We must invite investors and improve infrastructure.
We need to also work on fighting corruption. If our state governors and senators are not corrupt, the subordinates won’t be corrupt. As the president, if I am not corrupt, there is no how anyone in my administration will be corrupt and get away with it. These are some of the plans I have for Nigeria.
What do you think the APC can do better to win the 2023 elections?
They need to change their I-don’t-care attitude. I see a lot of that right now as they feel the votes of some people don’t matter. For example, they feel they don’t need votes from the south-east, so there is really nothing to do there. They need to change that attitude. That was what affected the Osun election. When you become overconfident, your opponent will take advantage of that. They need to carry everybody along. I see no reason why we should lose members and leaders. Set up a committee that will reach out to these and hear their grievances. They are playing with the Christian community. Right now, they are just pushings things to them and asking them to be understanding. We cannot go into the 2023 elections with this attitude. For us to win the election, carry everyone along.
What’s your assessment of the current security situation in the country? Do you have any suggestions for the federal government?
My assessment is quite clear. The security situation has worsened. It is sad and disheartening. People getting kidnapped daily is worrisome. My advice for the federal government is to handle it as a matter of urgency. The military is meant to protect us from external enemies. Terrorists have invaded our forests, kidnapping people. We need the military to go and combat them in the forest. We need to carry out a lot of airstrikes. This is war. Equip the military to fight. They should be recruiting more military personnel to fight this battle.
With the killings going on everywhere, we need more police personnel. We cannot have a country of over 200 million people and you just have 371,000 police officers in the street. More vehicles should be supplied. More equipment. The force also needs to review the training manual of its officers. It needs some adjustments. We cannot keep using the same method in tackling insecurity and expect a different result. That is very important. As a matter of urgency, we should have nothing less than one million police officers in Nigeria.
My strength is security. It saddens my heart when some candidates are talking about the economy, but you cannot have a stable economy when the nation is not secure. The moment war broke out in Ukraine, the economy went down. Until we fix security, we cannot grow economically. That is still my number one agenda.