Dr Nicholas Felix, a presidential aspirant in the primaries of the All Progressives Congress, tells ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS about his humble beginning and why he purchased the N100m nominations form to contest the APC presidential primary
You were relatively an unknown person before the APC presidential ticket race. How long have you been in politics?
That’s not completely true. The APC presidential primary wasn’t my first time. I actually contested in 2019 during the general election. I emerged number three, a second runner up among over 70 aspirants. So, you cannot really say this was my first time of contesting in the party election.
What brought a US-based pastor like you to the murky waters of Nigerian politics?
I am based in New York. In retrospect, I must say an ‘insult’ forced me into politics. I watched where a black American insulted a Nigerian and that got to me. I was tired of the status quo, the narrative of ‘How bad Nigerians are’, as if we are an accursed nation. I concluded that I could make a change by returning to my root in Nigeria to run for president. I know that for there to be a change, it must start from the head. If the head is sick, the whole body will be sick. That’s what convinced me to return to Nigeria.
Tell us about your grass to grace story. What will you say was your lowest point?
I grew up in Auchi, Edo State in the 1980s and 1990s. My mum was a fashion designer and my dad was a civil servant working with the Ministry of Agriculture. While growing up, there was a time things became extremely difficult for us. It took the grace of God for some of us to be where we are today. As a young man, I started hawking on the street. Some of those experiences moulded me into who I am today. I sold pure water, egg rolls, puff puff, bread, melon and everything sellable at that time. As a matter of time, I was producing yoghurts in my own local way and selling to supermarkets before I finally got admission to study Electronics Engineering.
I won the American lottery in 2003. I just jokingly played it. For three years, my friends and I kept playing but we didn’t win. The last one, my friends swore that they won’t go near it again in 2002. Everybody was discouraged. But I hardly get discouraged especially when it is something good. So, I played and won the lottery. In 2003, I got the papers and by January 2004, I came to America. Of course, people always assume that you can just come into America and start picking money. I worked hard and started going to school. I also started some businesses on the side and that’s where I am today.
Are your parents still alive?
I still have a father. My dad retired as a civil servant but I didn’t pay any particular attention to whatever peanuts he was receiving as a pension because I made up my mind that I was going to take care of him. I lost mum on July 1, 2020. A few weeks ago, my dad who was residing here in America with me requested that he wanted to go home for pension screening. I was worried and told him that he had just arrived, adding that his going again might cost me another ticket. Curiously, I asked how much his pension was and he told me N9,000. I find it quite heartbreaking and disappointing. How can people work for over 30 years and retire only to be paid this amount? I thought about retired civil servants without financially-strong kids to take care of them. How will people like this survive with that kind of money? It is sad, I must admit.
At what point did you conclude you had to withdraw for Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo?
When it became obvious I can’t get the ticket due to limited resources and little time to properly campaign. I had a one-on-one meeting with the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. But I knew he was the right one for the job at this time.
Were you disappointed after the Vice President whom you stepped down lost the presidential ticket to Tinubu?
Of course, I was disappointed, not in (Vice President Yemi) Osinbajo though. I was surprised that he didn’t win. He was the best man for the job. He is the Vice President and loyal for the past seven years. He understands the system and knows what the issues are. For instance, I don’t remember what year the president travelled for about two or three months and Osinbajo was there as the acting president. He made so much change that till today, people still remember. He did so much that I felt he was the right man for the job. I felt pained especially after the manner he spoke, after receiving me.
That was why I thought he was the best person to join forces to make the needed change happen. Despite the fact that he didn’t win, I still won’t regret my decision. I didn’t regret stepping down for him. This is democracy. In every contest, whether democracy or sports, there will always be a winner and losers. For you to be a good sportsman and for you to understand democracy, when you lose, you must be ready to accept it. When you win also, accept it. The phase we are in now is to join forces together and support the party to move forward.
Some critics called delegates from the South-East betrayers for deserting Igbo aspirants when it mattered most. Do you share similar thoughts?
No, I don’t see it that way. However, I believe choosing a national candidate should be a priority more than a region one. On the other hand, South-East aspirants also have to be more united and speak with one voice. I am hoping someday, we will have an Igbo president.
A number of political analysts are saying something is wrong with the foundation of Igbo politicking. Do you share similar opinion?
No, I don’t think so. Nothing is wrong with their foundation. They just have to work harder. Power will not be handed over to them. It has to be fought for.
Being the youngest among APC presidential aspirants, were you not intimidated by the presence of the political juggernauts?
Not at all. I wasn’t intimidated in any way. In fact, the way I see it is that the only thing the likes of Tinubu, Akpabio, Amaechi, Rochas and others have more than me was their resources, nothing else.
You are one of the few aspirants who didn’t support a Muslim-Muslim ticket for Tinubu and the APC. What was your reason?
I don’t think we should have a Muslim-Muslim ticket for whatever reason. It will be a baiting tool and our opposition will use it against us. I don’t think we impose on people what we don’t want to be done to us. Secondly, the country is polarised. It is divided along ethnic and religious lines. If the northern governors could sacrifice and say power should return to the South, that was because it was important to balance everybody. They should have just let it be on a level playing field. I am certain there are qualified and capable Christians in the North that we can choose from.
I told somebody, as a Christian from the South, even if they call me to be a running mate, it is still not okay as privileged as that may be. We cannot have both president and running mate from the South. Therefore, I think a Northern Christian should be chosen. That is a good balance. For whatever reason, let everybody be carried along. Third, let’s imagine now that we have a Muslim president and deputy and the usual religious violence breaks out without anything being done to arrest the situation, what will people think? Obviously, they will conclude that it is because two Muslim leaders are forced on the country.
Which geo-political zone do you think Tinubu’s running mate should pick from?
When it comes to the issue of the North, I really like narrowing things down to a particular region. What I will suggest is that if the party can get all the capable candidates, whether they are from the North-East or North-West, we can now decide who among them will pull the needed votes for us. Once they are able to identify such a candidate and the strength of his region, they can then go for that. It is crucial because we are going to have a very important election in 2023. This is the first time we are having four solid presidential candidates. Atiku (Abubakar) is there, our flagbearer is there, Rabiu Kwankwaso too and Peter Obi is causing frenzy all over social media. This is not the 2015 or 2019 election. It is a critical one.
Anybody ignoring Obi at this moment is making a big mistake. Kwankwaso is also there, causing a lot of trouble for us in the North-West. It is obvious that he is going to divide our votes. This is my own suggestion. Of course, I will say the same thing I am saying if the party wants to fly with a Christian-Christian ticket. If there is anybody I want to win in this 2023 election, it is my party. I am just saying the APC really needs to sit down and put sentiments aside, take advice from people, weigh it and make the best choice. That’s all.