Dr. Kunle Olajide is an elder statesman and Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE). In this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, he speaks on the succession battle ahead of 2023, the recent Kogi and Bayelsa states governorship elections, constitution amendment, anti-corruption war and restructuring, among other issues
The outcome of the November 16 governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states generated a lot of issues about the credibility of our elections; what is your take on the elections?
Those were not elections at all; they took us back to the medieval era of barbarism and brigandage. So, they were no elections. And in fact, I sympathise with Mr. President, who unfortunately because of his party loyalty congratulated the winner. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t have congratulated anybody as the winner until after the legal process has been concluded.
Because there were no elections, it was obvious; the media showed it to all of us. The two parties were culpable, but it was only the political party who had the executive authority and controls the security agencies that won. The two parties were prepared for violence but the party that won collaborated with the security agencies and that was why they were able to win. For me, nobody won the election.
With what happened during the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections and the fallout of the 2015 general elections, don’t you think there is need for the amendment of the Electoral Act?
Our problem is not the problem of laws in Nigeria; our problem is simply that of mindset. Our political leadership elites in both sides of divides, when they are in office, seem to forget that one day they will leave that office and become like any one of us and also become vulnerable to the dangers that afflict the society. For example, a PDP woman leader in Kogi State was burnt in her house. I am sure whoever won an election at state and federal levels would be thinking that that would never be my lot; that it will never happen to them. But they forget that as soon as they leave that stage they become ordinary citizens and it could happen to them. So, it is because of short memories and mindset, those are our problems, not laws.
We have enough laws. Can imagine the Inspector General of Police having the confidence to say on Television that it was fake policemen that caused all the crises during the governorship elections when he assured us that he had deployed over 30,000 police officers into Kogi for the election. That is a shame; he ought to have resigned because what that meant was that the 30,000 officers did not do anything; otherwise, I cannot imagine fake policemen overwhelming the authentic policemen.
With these worrying signals, do you foresee a situation where elections in Nigeria may gradually be the survival of the fittest through any means except for the ballot?
I’m sorry to say this, I am an optimist but on this issue, perhaps, I may be pessimistic. I do not see anything changing until we put less emphasis on money in political offices. Once you reduce the salary and allowances public office holders, only people who have passion for service would go into politics, that way, you have made it less attractive. But now, politics is the most lucrative business in Nigeria; you earn a lot of money and become famous within a year or two and the whole world is talking about you. So, we have charlatans virtually dominating the political space. If you recall, a senator who was a former Assistant Inspector-General of Police walked round the Senate chamber when he was in the Senate and said most of the senators sitting there were one accused that he detained in custody when he was AIG of Police. So, that is what we have now. Only a few percentages of well-meaning service-minded political elites are there but no sooner than they get there, they become too comfortable because of the allowance and salary and they seem to forget where they are coming from.
Would you then suggest a reduction of salary and allowances of public office holders?
I have been saying that since their salaries were announced and published in 2001. The day it was published in 2001, the second day I travelled to the Villa to meet the then President Olusegun Obasanjo and complained to him personally one-on-one on the humongous salary. As at that time, it was not this bad because the legislators themselves have not padded their salary. So, as far as I am concerned before you can have democracy, free and fair election, we must make legislature and executive offices less attractive as it used to be in the Second Republic before the intervention of the military. Until we do that my fear is that if nothing is done in the next one and half years, bombs will be used in 2023 elections. They used helicopters now to drop teargas; they will use bombs in the next election if care is not taken. So for me, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) should be encouraged to continue on this investigation of constituency projects vigorously so that there will adequate legislation and executive intervention to ensure that it is no longer a drainpipe to the treasures of Nigeria. The money is too much so people are prepared to kill to get there. So, once they demonetize it, then you will discover that people will shift attention away from political offices to some other things where they can make money.
You said bombs would be used in 2023. Why did you think so…
I hope not but since they used helicopters and dynamites now to set houses ablaze, what do you think they would graduate to in the net election?. It was not this bad in 2015; it was not this bad in February this year. So, it is escalating.
With what happened during the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections, are you not afraid that 2023 elections will be a war?
That is what I have said; it will be more than war if nothing is done in the next 18 months to demonetize these political offices or for anti-corruption agencies to beam more searchlights on all the institutions. I sincerely hope not, bombs might even be used.
Less than three years to the next general election there are a lot of agitations as people have started talking about 2023 presidency. Is it not too early?
I will not say it is too early but what I will say is that there is too much politicking than governance in Nigeria. If you go to the developed countries, there is little government and big private sectors; it is only in Nigeria where everything revolves around the government. So, everybody wants to be in government or want his or her family members to be in government. So, the moment you demonetize it, it will lose sight of the people and people will look for ways to add value to the country. For example, one of the things I have always said about politics is this, we have a lot of young men who are very brilliant who could be contributing to the GDP of this country but because there is cheap money in politics, they abandoned their calling and go into politics; this is a shame.
I congratulate and I am going to do a letter to the governor, speaker and the legislators of Zamfara State who have completely removed pensions for governors, deputy governors, speakers, and deputy speakers. Other states should emulate them. You offer yourselves for service for four years and you loot the place for four years and you want to be paid pension when the civil servant who spent 35 years in service found it difficult to get their pension; it is immoral and grossly insensitive. So for me, all other states and the federal government must emulate Zamfara. When a former governor had the effrontery to write in black and white that N10million per month is his upkeep allowance after retiring as governor, it is a shame.
How do you see the recent battle and agitation for 2023 presidency between the South and the North who are both scheming to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor?
I am a Nigerian nationalist from Yoruba extraction, therefore, as far as I am concerned, I believe in this country. This North and South divide is the creation of the colonial masters. We are a heterogeneous country, we are yet to build a nation out of it and this is why this dichotomy is being emphasised. For us in Yorubaland, it is not our intention to dominate anybody but we want to be left to run our affairs, explore our resources, exploit it and deploy it according to our priorities here. We are against this centralized system of government; that is what makes the presidency important.
In the First Republic, the prime ministership then was not important and that was why Ahmadu Bello preferred to remain Premier of the Northerner Region rather than becoming the Prime Minister in Lagos. So that is what we are asking for. This centre is too loaded and that is why we are yet to make a nation out of Nigeria. There is mutual suspicion that one part of the country wants to dominate the other, otherwise, there would have been no need for this discussion.
I recall in the Second Republic, I was always saying that we don’t give a damn if the president of Nigeria came repeatedly from one hamlet in Sokoto as long as others were able to do their business here. Tafawa Balewa, as a Prime Minister had no business with Obafemi Awolowo running the Western Region and that is the benefit we are enjoying today. Awolowo was head of government in Western Region for only eight years; he left office in 1959, yet we are reaping the fruits of his labour till today. That was when we had a foresighted leadership and people-center leadership. This North and South issue doesn’t mean anything to me.
But as a Southerner, how do you a situation where some Northerners are saying that come 2023 they will produce the president despite the fact that President Buhari who is a Northerner spent two terms in office …
Firstly, where is the North? We don’t have the North anymore; anybody who thinks the North remains a mystic is living in a fool’s paradise. The Middle-Belt has come to rediscover themselves. It was when they are part of the North and they were having an advantage over the core North because they were more educated and it was easier for them; that was when the North was blowing hot but now the Middle-Belt has withdrawn from the Arewa Consultative Forum, so there is nothing like North now. In fact I want to say that, it is our failure to build a nation that makes us talk about North and South. Hunger speaks the same language in Lagos and Zamfara; hunger is hunger. The degree of poverty is the same everywhere and if you ask me, the North is more ravaged than the South and this is inspite of their holding on to power for many years in the past. In fact, they have the highest poverty rate, highest kidnapping and murder rate on a daily basis, banditry every day. So what advantage has their stay in government for the benefit of their people?
As a Yoruba leader, how would you react to a statement by the acting President of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) that North will only vote for a Northern in 2023?
You must appreciate that we have freedom of speech. They are just taunting a few of our leaders who appear very parochial; it is impossible. How can anybody say they are going to vote for one candidate; that cannot happen. I am convinced it cannot happen, so I don’t react to such an empty boast.
Are Yoruba leaders really pushing for South-West to produce president in 2023?
For me, what we are more interested in is the restructuring of this country; to allow each state to explore its resources, exploit it and deploy it for the benefits of the people according to their valuables, not presidency. Presidency is hanging somewhere; like what somebody said few days ago and I was very impressed with the statement that what benefit did Obasanjo presidency give the Yoruba people and what benefits has Buhari given to the Daura people in its five and half years? An emir in Daura was kidnapped a few months ago, there is banditry going on there, the vast majority of people there are poor, they are uneducated, so what is presidency? Let us take more about this country; about Nigeria, not about one individual holding one office; it doesn’t mean a thing to me.
But a lot of people believe it is the turn of the South to produce the president in 2023…
It is and I am sure it is the South that will produce the presidency; there is no argument about that. But to me, that is not my priority; my priority is that each part of Nigeria should determine its faith by executing its programme, I don’t care who becomes president.
Do you think that can be achieved?
Why not? I am sure it is obvious to a lot of people now. I heard the president said that the police must be decentralised and day in day out, they are talking about community policing. They are beginning to see reality; in fact, it is the North that is suffering most in Nigeria.
That is where you have the highest poverty, highest maternal death, highest infant mortality, highest river blindness, and highest child marriage. It is obvious the negative indices are prevalent in the North than in the South. It is confirmed in the World Health Organisation/UNICEF data. So, power is irrelevant. What do you with the power for your people? Do you know why we had Boko Haram; it is a clash between feudalism that is the practice in the North and globalization. Those youths rebelled that how could they subject them to slavery for so long and they began to fight. So, it cannot go on like that. As I said poverty speaks the same language, diseases speak the same language. Revolution is in the offing if nothing is done to change this scenario.
Are you saying revolution may take place if nothing changes soon in the country?
The people will rebel; they will start attacking their leaders and you will discover that some legislators will not be able to go home. I have seen one or two complaining to me on the telephone that they could not go home because they were harassed the last time they went to their constituencies. Time is running out and you cannot fool the people all the time.
There is speculation in some quarters that peradventure the North hold on to power beyond 2023, the South may be forced to renegotiate their continuous stay in Nigeria…
I don’t talk about such vain imagination. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing to discuss but what I know is that time is running out on Nigeria, the political leadership from both sides of the divide should sit up and address the problems of this country and restore power back to the state. I hate to use the word ‘devolve’ because devolve means that the power belongs to the central. The power doesn’t belong to them; they snatched power from regions at gunpoint. So they stole the power to the centre and they should return it.
There is rumour about President Buhari trying to seek the third term despite the president denying he is not interested in extending his tenure beyond 2023 and somebody has approached the court for amendment of the constitution to pave way for the third term…
I don’t worry about people exercising their fundamental human rights and exercising their freedom of speech as long as it is not scandalous or libelous. We should not lose sleep over that.
Do you see the third term scaling through?
No, it cannot happen.
Why do you say so?
Because I am sure it cannot. Nobody has ever done it. Abacha was the first; at gunpoint, with bombs, he tried to perpetuate himself in office but it failed. Abdulsalami Abubakar came in and within nine months he packed his bag and baggage and went home. The world is a global village. It cannot happen in Nigeria. Nigeria is too big; what do you want to use to suppress everybody from Atlantic Ocean to Sahara Desert. Tell me what you want to use? Is it the Army? Don’t we have Yoruba, Igbo and South-South in the Army? We have passed that level.
But can’t the third term be achieved through constitution amendment?
It won’t work because the constitution in spite of its deficiency says you cannot amend the constitution without two-third of the 36 states ratifying whatever you do. So how can you get that?
Corruption has been a major issue in this country and one of the campaign promises of President Buhari is to fight corruption. Do you think this administration is really fighting corruption?
Yes, they are because they have achieved quite a lot and we must give it to them. But until you quench the fire, there will continue to be smoke. With this defective constitution and too much money in Abuja, corruption will continue; it will and you will keep fighting it. A former head of service of this administration who was sworn in by Buhari was removed about six months ago; that tells you that most of the leadership in the administration doesn’t even share the view of Buhari himself. So until you restructure the country in such a way that will make it difficult for corruption to flourish, no matter what you do, it will still continue.
People have been talking about corruption for many years in Nigeria, why is it difficult to fight corruption in Nigeria?
Because there is no political will. Nigeria is not the first place we are having this kind of problem; we had it in Russia for many years until the revolution happened and they change, ditto America and Britain. So, there is nothing to worry about, we will get there very soon. If you watch what is going on, for me, I see it as a good development, youths going to protest and demonstrate in the front of the Department of Security Services (DSS) office. That is exceptional courage. Some youths also demonstrated last week at the National Assembly. So, we are moving and anybody who thinks he can continue to take Nigerians for a ride for a long time must be living in fool’s paradise. It is not possible. Even in your home, you cannot remain dictatorial forever, it will get to a particular stage, your child will tell you, daddy, I am sorry, that is what I want to do.
South-West is not hiding its interest to produce the president in 2023 but there are some schools of thought who believe that division among stakeholders in the region may prevent the region from producing the next president…
I bet to disagree. What is in the presidency? I am not keen on the presidency. I am sure you were about 20 years old when Obasanjo was president, what did he do to your life? Tell me?
Are you, therefore, saying competence and capacity should be the yardstick for the presidency?
I am not interested in either competence and capacity, what I am interested in is let us have a solid foundation, a good structure, constitution and a good system of government first. Where is the competency in the presidency, if I may ask now? So, don’t let us burn our energy on what is not important. Anybody who loves this country now will agree that what we need to do is to rebuild our constitution, make it people’s centered instead of elite’s centered. The system of government we are running is elitist centered and that is why I defined our democracy as government of the tiny political leadership elite by the tiny political leadership elite for the tiny political leadership elite not for the people.
What is your take about South-West integration for all the six states in the region to work together for the progress of the region?
We have to very careful; the priorities of the Oyo State are different from the priorities of the Osun State. Already we have Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) and already our governors cooperated, collaborated and worked together to rid the South-West of this herdsmen and farmers clashes; that is the integration of development. There is no state in the South-West that is not more than some countries in the world. Lagos alone and probably Oyo State are far more populated than the whole of Ghana. I believe in economic integration.
In fact, I once issued a press release that the governors must adequately fund Development Agenda for Western Nigeria to enhance their integration efforts, which they are making now. So for me, the only problem we have is this unitary system of government. My suggestion is that each state should pay their senators and House of Representatives members whatever they can afford to pay; it should not be a federal matter. Bayelsa State can pay its senator N20million monthly while Ekiti State can afford only N1million and anybody who is not interested should stay in his house. So whoever offers himself for service in the National Assembly knows that he is coming to serve and represent his people and anybody who is not interested should stay in his house.
Igbo presidency not feasible in 2023 – Ogah
Hon. Chinedu Ogah represents Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency of Ebonyi State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks in this interview with CHUKWU DAVID on some national issues, including the nation’s debt profile, federal character principle, rotational presidency and autonomy for local governments, among others
President Muhammadu Buhari recently sent a request to the National Assembly for approval of a $30 billion loan. What is your take on that?
My take is that instead of selling Nigeria’s assets in order to build the country, it is better we borrow. I support such, in the sense that the borrowing that Mr. President has done so far is yielding result. We are seeing the result in the ongoing railway projects across the country and that is something that will help Nigeria to grow. It’s better we borrow than selling the property of this country, which is another avenue for corrupt people to loot the money. If there is any way more borrowing can be done for this country to stabilize, I will support it. When borrowed funds are invested into productive areas, then certainly, we can recoup the money and pay back. So, it’s not a bad thing that Mr. President is borrowing. But if the loans are collected and shared, that is when we can raise alarm over it, but the loans taken so far taken are being utilised very meaningfully in such a way that the economy of the country is receiving a boost.
You have just noted that your state is being schemed out of employment and that this negates the federal character principle. At the federal level, the headship of the nation’s security institutions is concentrated in the North. What is your comment on that?
We have met and we are already discussing with the Inspector-General of Police and heads of other agencies to make sure that Ebonyi people are appointed to eminent positions because we have people, who are qualified. As legislators, our duty is to make sure that the laws of the land are adhered to in the distribution of federal appointments and in conformity with the federal character principle. It’s not only in the security agencies, but other sectors.
As a legislator, my voice is going to be heard. I am already initiating a motion, so that those agencies would be called to order. I also use this opportunity to advise Ebonyi citizens in positions of authority, who connive with people from other states by giving them Ebonyi state identification certificate to enable them fill up Ebonyi quota in government establishments to desist from doing that. They should allow Ebonyians, especially people from my constituency to occupy their rightful positions in the country.
Still in line with your advocacy that the federal character principle should be respected in federal appointments, is it right to say that no South easterner or Igbo person is qualified to be appointed as a service chief since 2015 till date?
You cannot say that there is no Igbo man who is qualified to be appointed as a service chief, but there are certain things you need to look at. In the appointment of a service chief, you need to look at credibility, you need to look at commitment; you don’t just appoint somebody as a service chief. We know that the Igbo are qualified, but it is a very critical issue. That is why I am advising our people to stop being in opposition because it will not help us. We should try and come to the mainstream for us to be part of what they are doing; the trust will be there and things that you need would be given to you. It is natural that when you fight against somebody, it will trigger hate. So, in making critical appointments, you must find somebody that is loyal, diligent and prudent.
Are you saying that there are no loyalists to President Buhari from the South-East even when people like you, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and other strong supporters of his are there?
But you are talking about service chiefs; Ogbonnaya Onu is not in that class, he is a minister. We are definitely working towards that and that is why we want everybody to join hands to support the government of President Buhari. You cannot appoint someone who will pull down your government; somebody who cannot stand to defend your government. We should not deceive ourselves; this is pure politics and every government wants to succeed, wants to grow, wants to develop and showcase something for people to see. You cannot bring in someone who has a different idea for your agenda. We have to look at issues critically and do the needful.
Your argument tends to suggest that you are supporting the philosophy of “winner takes all” in politics…
No, it’s not about winner takes all, but we need to be just and do what is right. How will come out to fund the opposition and expect the ruling party to bring you into government? It’s not done.
What is your take on the clamour for the South-East to produce the next president in 2023?
I don’t want to deceive myself; anybody telling you that 2023 is possible for Igbo presidency is deceiving himself. Let’s wait till when we get to the bridge before crossing it. The reason is that we are not united; we are fighting ourselves. We should be able to stand to bargain. How many states in the South-East are of the national party? If at all the South-East is able to have two states in the national party, the bargain for presidency can be possible. What is our vote in the South East? What is our bargaining power? We should talk of reality. It is at the mercy of northerners, that we can say please, we want this power to go round the six geopolitical zones, and it is the turn of the South-East, then they can support us and we will have it. If we start forcing ourselves that we are going to have power in 2023, we are deceiving ourselves.
Do you believe in the concept of zoning?
Of course, I believe in zoning and that is why we have to work hard to make it a constitutional issue, so that each of the six geopolitical zones can take their turn at the presidency.
If you believe in zoning, don’t you think that it is the turn of the South-East to produce the president in 2023 since the South-West and South-South have taken their turns?
That is what you and I think, but what do we have on ground to merit that; what is our plan to get it, what is our prospective future? Those who were able to occupy big positions in the past from the South-East, why is it that they were unable to raise young people, who can now stand? We shot ourselves on the leg, now we are crying foul. An Igbo man will be in office; instead of him to employ his brothers and sisters, he will prefer to bring in outsiders, and tomorrow you start crying that you are marginalised, nobody is marginalizing us; we are marginalizing ourselves. We don’t love ourselves.
You say that you believe in the principle of zoning, but at the same time said the South-East is not ready for the presidency. Can you reconcile the two seeming contradictory positions?
Let me tell you the reason. Ahead of the 2019 elections, most of the governors came to Abuja and agreed that they are going to support Mr. President having seen the good things he is doing. But during the presidential election, they betrayed. It was only few that kept the agreement. So, if you have a gentleman agreement, but at the end of the day, you betrayed, how do you think the person in agreement with you will be looking at you? That’s what most of those people you call our leaders in the South-East did. So, it’s still our duty to come together and organise ourselves and do the right thing.
The recent elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states were reportedly characterized by rigging and violence. How do you react to that?
The elections were not manipulated. They were free and fair. If the elections were manipulated, you will see resistance from the masses, but you saw that so many people were happy with the outcome. What matters in an election is to have a good candidate. Once that is done, definitely the candidate and the party presenting the candidate will succeed. APC presented good candidates, the candidates worked hard and people supported them; even those in PDP supported the APC candidates in Bayelsa and Kogi.
Some Nigerians are clamouring for introduction of electronic transmission of results into the country’s electoral process as a means of reducing or eliminating rigging. Do you support the idea?
In supporting electronic transmission of election results, let us first of all do what is needful because my old father in the village doesn’t know what is internet. There should first of all be provision of communication masts in all villages in this country. Also, we need to sensitise the people on the need to introduce electronic transmission system for our future elections. You cannot jump in and put in place what will shortchange the people. We have to do certain things before we get there. Electronic voting is good, but we are not yet exposed enough to go into it.
There is an impression that the present National Assembly is a rubber stamp, and therefore, can hardly take independent decisions as a separate organ of government. Do you agree with that?
Whoever is saying that is not part of this country. Mr. President does not interfere with any organ of government. He does not interfere with the judiciary; he does not interfere with the legislature. Thank God that I am a member of the legislature today. The President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, is a man of great repute, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, is also a man of good character.
In fact, we have never had any Speaker like him in the past in terms of excellent performance of the responsibilities of his office. Look at how he carries all members along irrespective of party differences. You can see unity in the Chamber among members from different parties. It has never been so. Therefore, anybody saying that the present National Assembly is a rubber stamp is making mockery of himself. The National Assembly is competent; it has men and women of great ideas, who have been sponsoring wonderful bills and motions that can bring positive developments to this country.
My husband’s ministers must sit up – Aisha Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife, Aisha, in a telephone interview she granted to Television Continental (TVC) from London during its programme ‘Journalists’ Hangout’ last Thursday, speaks on developments in the Presidency and why she will continue to speak her mind on national issues. TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE monitored the interview
You were said to have referred to some people as responsible for the present situation in the country. I want you to shed light on this and who are these people?
Thank you for being with me this time to shed light on what I have already said. Actually we all know the situation in the country now. We are all adults. On that very day, I did not blame the governors specifically. If I wanted to blame the governors, I would have said the governors’ forum is not doing well on this and that. But if you listened to my conversation, I said what we are suffering now is as a result of long time of total neglect of what should be offered to the citizens. And we are all suffering from it; whether you are in the executive or as ordinary citizens, it is all the same. We can’t go to our villages and sleep with two eyes closed.
So, it cuts across?
Yes, it cuts across. And on that very day, I also mentioned something on the social media, when the Sultan of Sokoto talked about the social media; the bad effect that it is reflecting in the society. The Minister of Communication was there when something happened. In that very place, the Minister of Communication gave an example, saying that somebody called the VP, His Excellency Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, saying ‘why did you resign,’ but he said: ‘No, I didn’t resign, who told you I resigned in the first place.’ The person said he saw it on the social media and everybody laughed in that hall.
When I got up to give my speech, I said it is not a laughing matter; I was surprised that everybody laughed. What does that mean; that they should continue saying that somebody as the vice president of a country, a country of 200 million people has resigned. A Minister of Communication that is supposed to give an order to bring an end to such issue talked about it and everybody laughed and that was the end of it.
No consequences for any offender; nothing. You say what you like and go scot-free. There is no way we should have such a society and have peace in it. So, once there is no consequence, everybody is not doing what he should, like almost everything is in disarray. A typical example of what happened is that wherever they are supposed to take action against the offenders or to take action or to be in control or caution people, they keep mute on it.
When it comes to unnecessary things, people will start talking from the presidency. A typical example is what happened after the election of Bayelsa State, when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) people came out and said that they would suspend former President Goodluck Jonathan for doing wrong or something like that. I didn’t read it because I don’t have time.
I see no reason why the presidency should come out and say that they were shocked to hear that. Is it their business? Are we PDP members? Is former President Jonathan a member of our party? What does that got to do with the presidency? Meanwhile, they said the President was dead when he was sick, they saw his coffin and also sent it all over the media that he is getting married; they were showing this and that, nobody came out to defend the President; to say anything about it.
How did you take that news?
I didn’t take it serious because even my husband doesn’t know what happened. They just decided to bombard the social media with it. So, they are now threatening the social media to bring down the government itself. So, I think that we should not allow people who are nobody and nothing to override innocent people. If people who are supposed to be in charge should remain mute, the bad ones will take over the country from us. It is totally unacceptable.
Have you ever been told to stop talking?
Who will stop me? Everybody is talking in the country; nobody stopped them.
So nobody has told you to stop talking because every time you talk, it is like a bomb…
It is a serious matter; nobody is talking, no consequences, so everybody should talk. It is like everybody is free to talk; freedom of movement, freedom of speech, expressing your opinion on things. And don’t forget that everybody knows that we are not safe where we are. You are either kidnapped or shot death or this one will attack this person and that one will attack this person. It is wrong. There should be consequences for any offence and the ministers should do what they are supposed to do. I know Nigeria is a complex country, but we need a bit of sanity.
We have seen several first ladies before you and I don’t think any of them has been this bold to be able to come out to speak; they don’t intervene in national matters. How would you want to be remembered after leaving this office?
Let me give you one example; I think on November 2, I met the wife of the vice president at the airport on my way to Morocco and she was on her way to Ikenne, Ogun State. She was looking so exhausted and sick. I said: ‘Dolapo must you travel?’ She said ‘what would I do? This people really voted for us during the last election and they did not allow any party to come to our ward because of me and my husband and now they are having a function in that very village and my husband is going to be in Daura; he won’t be able to attend. So, there is no way that both of us won’t attend that particular event for Ikenne people.’
I said ‘what does that mean.’ She said: ‘I felt indebted to them the same way they felt for us.’ I said ‘okay, you are now joining the line. Because these people voted for your husband and that was for only one term and the Nigerian masses believed in my husband’s ideology; they continued fighting for it for the past 12 years before 2015. Why you got to this place was not because you are the richest, most handsome and beautiful and most educated but we are just here due to trust and confidence they have in us. So, I feel indebted to the Nigerian masses and I will continue to defend them as the wife of the president, first lady or as a mother of the nation.’
Do you get to take on the President in some of these matters that you just raised? Some time, do you engage in pillow talk and asked: ‘Mr. President, what is happening?’
There is no pillow in the Villa.
Even in the other room?
No, because they are always busy listening to one story to the other. I think the people he put in the cabinet should just sit up and do the needful and that is it. That is why it is not good to have godfathers; we just need to choose the right people to be in the right places, so that we would rest, so that the First Lady will stop talking.
It’s time to reposition Lagos PDP – Shelle
A former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State, Capt. Tunji Shelle, speaks in this interview on the contoversy trailing the emergence of a new executive of the party in the state, among other issues. TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE reports
You were present at the recent inauguration of the new executive of the Lagos PDP. What informed your decision to align with the emergence of Deji Doherty as the new elected leader of the party?
I have to support whoever appears for the screening, contested for and won the election. The new state chairman, Adedeji Doherty has been in the party for a long time and has paid his dues. He has done a lot of things to convince people that he is a leader. He has contested for governorship elections on several occasions in the past and lost in the primaries, yet, he didn’t decamp. He has remained consistent and continued to support the party. So, I believe he has something to offer the PDP in Lagos and that was why I threw my weight behind him.
You are one of Chief Bode George’s loyalists, but he is not in support of the emergence of Doherty. Don’t you think people might think that you have betrayed him?
I am still his loyalist and Chief Bode George remains my leader, but I have to be firm and principled on issues. If I know a particular person is not doing well as a member of the state executive of the party and such a person has to be replaced, I will put sentiment aside and ensure that the proper thing is done. The constitution is our Bible in the party and as long as it is followed, I will comply with it as a loyal party man.
Despite the emergence of a new exco for the party, Dr. Adegbola Dominic insists that he remains the state chairman of the party. He added that there was a court injunction which barred the conduct of an election. How true is that?
I don’t think there was any injunction. If there is any, it was not out on the day of the congress. I don’t think they have a copy of the injunction even up till now. Apart from that, the congress committee was properly constituted by the national body; a date was fixed and they followed due process in all that was done. A date was fixed for the election; it was keenly contested and winners emerged. I don’t think the injunction was served before the congress took place.
Apart from that, Doherty has shown enough capability to lead the party. He has convinced everyone that he could do better than the former state chairman and he is passionate about the PDP in Lagos not dying. The person who championed the court case should go and read what the constitution says. He was only given 90 days to act as the state chairman, even if it was by error. He never complained all this while, but when the time to replace him came, he was replaced and that is the basic issue. So, the injunction is just an attempt to make him stop the congress, but it failed.
Your party had its worse performance in Lagos State during the 2019 general election. Don’t you think that it is the right time to put your house in order?
That was one of the reasons why I complied with the decision of the national body to conduct a fresh congress in order to elect a capable state chairman for PDP in Lagos State. I don’t think that the former state chairman, Dr. Adegbola Dominic, did his work properly while in office. We won some number of seats both in the House of Representatives and Lagos State House of Assembly in 2015, when I was the state chairman, I had expected that those who took over from me will consolidate and build on the results I achieved, but that was not to be.
I believe it is time for us to focus on a new direction, reposition the party for greatness, so that we can do better in subsequent elections. Since he has been in office, meetings have not been held at different levels. Without meetings, where members can interact with themselves and rub minds together, the party cannot function properly. Go to the party secretariat today, it looks like an abandoned war zone. But, I am sure that with the new leadership, the situation is going to change and people will give their support to the new chairman, so that he can put the party in good shape to win elections in the future.
Don’t you think that your decision to align with the Doherty-led exco will cause a strain in your relationship with Chief Bode George?
Not at all! We’ve been exchanging views and you will expect such a thing in a democracy. It is just a question of wanting the PDP to grow and succeed. To me, if somebody is not good, there are no two ways about it; he is not good. That Chief Bode George and I are not on the same page on this issue is not enough reason to cause a strain in our relationship. I respect him a lot; he is my brother.
In politics, two brothers from same parents can even be in different political parties and it will not cause any strain in their relationship even though they will have different political views. But here, we are not in different parties, we are both staunch members of the PDP. The only thing is that both of us don’t agree on the issue of Dominic continuing in office as state chairman. Though I don’t see any reason why he should support Dominic, I still respect him a lot.
As a former state chairman of the party, what advice do you have for Doherty and other members of the PDP in Lagos?
He has a lot of work to do. So, I am appealing to all PDP members in Lagos to rally round him and ensure that he succeeds. He should be ready to face challenges. As the state chairman, you are the father and friend of all party members. Therefore, you should be able to exhibit leadership at the highest level. He should ensure unity and cohesion among members of the party because in unity, the party is stronger. If there are lapses, he should use his good office to address them. He should also put the PDP in good shape, so that it can win future elections. I pray for the new chairman to surpass my achievements as PDP chairman in Lagos State.
NADECO to Nigerians: Resist oppression
●Sowore’s travail signals distressed democracy, says group
Worried by the present state of the nation, leaders of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) have urged Nigerians to intensify efforts in the fight against oppression.
Speaking at the weekend the organisation visit to late Beko Ransome Kuti’s Anthony Village residence in Lagos to condole with the family over the demise of Abosede, wife of the late human rights activist, NADECO Secretary, Mr. Ayo Opadokun, appealed to the younger generation to take their destinies into their hands.
His words: “Your oppressors would never handover your liberty to you, and you must be determined to take it from them, every day of your life.
“Any day you fail to fight for your right, you are wasting your time. Don’t think that the oppressors would hand it over to you. They are happy that you are wasting your time, and they would keep on doing the careless things that they are doing.”
NADECO chairman, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), said: “What he (Beko Ransome-Kuti) struggled for and many others like him, are not something just for material benefit or temporary. We will not cease to remind people, there is no way, that you can be happy in any portion of this space and others are not happy, and there is no way you can disregard the happiness of others and be happy; it is not possible.
“When people say break up, whether you like it or not, God created geography, no matter the different nationalities, even if you end up in different regions, all of us must meet in the space called Nigeria to be happy and for things to work well.”
Also speaking, a NADECO chieftain, Dr. Amos Akingba, who described the country as a society that is in retrogressive evolution, whether in education, values, religion or legislature, urged the youths to double their efforts in the fight against oppression, stressing that Nigeria had continued to go backwards.
Meanwhile, a civil society group, the Centre for Truth and Liberty (CTL) has condemned the invasion of Abuja Federal High Court by officials of the Department of State Security (DSS) in the latest attempt to undermine the judiciary in Nigeria.
The group in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Olusesan Samaye, called on the international community to urgently intervene to safeguard democracy in Nigeria by calling Nigerian government to order.
The statement reads in part: “The refusal by the DSS to release leaders of the #RevolutionaNow Movement, Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare in spite of valid bail granted by a competent court of jurisdiction violates sanctity of the rule of law and impugns on the principle of separation of power which is vital for the growth of democracy.
“It is indeed regrettable that much of the gains recorded through painstaking commitment to popular and unfettered citizens’ engagements in the last 20 years of civil rule are being eroded with unrestrained impunity. There is no doubt that democracy is in distress in Nigeria owing to prevailing suffocating climate of intolerance orchestrated by the government. Therefore, proposed social media and hate speech bills would definitely worsen the situation as security outfit like the DSS will become more emboldened in violating human rights and in continuation of the impunity and contempt for the judiciary and rule of law.
“CTL therefore calls on the international community to urgently intervene to safeguard democracy in Nigeria. CTL calls on the United Nations (UN), United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and Canada to call Nigerian government to order.”
We follow due process in electing Lagos exco, PDP tells George
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has denied any interference in the election of the party’s leadership in Lagos State.
The party said the statement credited to its former Deputy National Chairman, Chief Bode George of interference of the National Working Committee (NWC) was erroneous.
George had in a publication on Monday, accused the Prince Uche Secondus-led national leadership of the party of impunity, and said the NWC conducted an election into the Lagos State chapter despite subsisting court order.
“What they are doing is illogical and illegal, totally out of the constitution. If they cannot follow the rule as stated in the constitution, they are going to kill the party very fast,” George was quoted in that publication.
But PDP said Monday that the emergence of Adedeji Doherty-led executive committee followed all due processes as stipulated by the party’s constitution and guidelines as well as the Electoral Act.
The party in a statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan also stated that all actions taken by its members in Lagos State in filling vacancies left either by resignations, defections and or death of occupants of those offices followed due process.
Sowore: Rule of law on test
- Furore over re-arrest of Sowore
FELIX NWANERI writes on the travails of the convener of RevolutionNow movement, Omoyele Sowore, which some stakeholders say, has put the present administration’s respect for the rule of law to test
The world, over time, has witnessed series of political upheavals that saw ordinary people coming together to bring down regimes, they tagged oppressive.
These movements relied on the unity of the parties involved parties although in most cases, they ended up as precursors to civil and even international conflicts. Some of the most world-changing political revolutions to have ever occurred include the Chinese communist revolution and the Iranian revolution also known as the Islamic Revolution, a period where Iranians conducted numerous demonstrations against the United States-backed Pahlavi dynasty, and which became an inspiration to other movements all over the world, including the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa as well as the Haitian revolution – a successful anti-slavery war.
Others were the Fidel Castro-led Cuban Revolution, which culminated in the overthrowing of the Batista-led authoritarian government; the Xinhai Revolution in China that led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty; the French Revolution that changed modern history in France and Europe in general and the American Revolution, which began after members of the American colonial society refused to submit to Great Britain’s King and Parliament’s authority.
There was also the Russian Revolution – the first, known as the February Revolution, which focused on the then Russian capital, Petrograd, and led to the collapse of the Russian Empire and the abdication of its leader, Emperor Nicholas II and the establishment of a provisional government and the second known as the October Revolution, which was led by Vladimir Lenin to overthrow the provisional government and imposed a communist government. Africa has also had its fair share of revolutions.
They include Algerian Revolution (1954-62), Angolan War of Independence (1961-74), Egyptian Revolution (1919), Egyptian Revolution (1952), Rwandan Revolution (1959-61), Sudanese Revolution of 1985, Somali Revolution (1986-92), and what many refer to as the Arab Spring that swept through Tunisia (2010-2011), Libya (2011) and Egyptian. While most leaders of these revolutions predicated their actions on the need to unseat totalitarian regimes, there is no doubt that a few, particularly the most recent ones, were driven by the global trend for younger given growing unhappiness with establishment politicians.
This perhaps explains why in the past few years, countries like France, Ireland, Estonia and most recently, Austria have elected leaders under the age of 40. To the electorate in some of these countries, there is a feeling that new approaches are needed for today’s problems. Against this backdrop, less emphasis is being put on age and experience.
More than youth alone, these leaders offer their countries a renewed sense of vitality and excitement. For instance, Kurz in 2013 became Austria’s youngest-ever foreign minister and hosted negotiations on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who before Kurz was Europe’s youngest leader, as well as Emanuel Macron, France’s youngestever president elected in June at the age of 39, also held high ministerial positions before leading their political parties.
The question many have asked against this development is: What could have influenced the trend? The answer may not be farfetched as the rise of social media has changed the dynamics of politics. There is also no doubt that politics has become much faster and much less predictable and young people feel more comfortable dealing with this new dynamics than old established politicians.
This new dynamics, perhaps, informed the call for “Days of Rage” by Omoyele Sowore, a political activist and presidential candidate of the Africa Action Congress (AAC) in Nigeria’s 2019 general election. The protest, under the banner, RevolutionNow, was said to have been inspired by the recent popular uprising in Sudan that toppled the country’s authoritarian ruler Omar al-Bashir.
The protest was billed to commence on August 5, across the country to demand for a better Nigeria. Sowore had after a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the AAC on Saturday, August 5, said that the protest would be sustained until the country is put on the right path of honour, where justice will prevail. He noted that the action of the government compelled his party and other groups to go for the option even as he added that there was no level playing field during the 2019 general elections. His words: “Election is a place we would have carried out a revolution of the ballot box, but they stole the ballot box.
They hijacked materials meant for free and fair elections and as a result they did not organise any election that was credible enough for people to have faith in the ballot box. “The revolution has therefore become inevitable. We didn’t choose to go for revolution they choose it by ensuring that there was no level playing field in the last elections. “As you know, they did it in Sudan and it was started by some females.
They were making fun of them, but they did not stop until doctors joined them, the labour union joined them and what started as five people became 5,000 and 500,000 and became 5,000,000 and the regime fell. “So, don’t let anybody deceive you that in asking for a better government or country you are committing any illegality.
The biggest illegality being committed in Nigeria as of today is the rigging of election in 2019. The moment you don’t allow people to express their God giving rights to choose their leaders, you are committing an illegality and inviting resistance.”
Though the protest commenced as scheduled on Monday August 5, despite Sowore’s arrest on Saturday, August 3, by operatives of the Department for State Services (DSS), the Federal Government termed it a call for revolution aimed at overthrowing the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had ahead of the commencement of the protest, warned its organisers on the enormity of the journey they were about to embark, describing the planned action as treasonable felony and an act of terrorism. The police boss, through a statement signed by the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, noted that the nation’s police force would not fold its hands and watch a group of people cause anarchy in the country.
The statement read in part: “The attention of the Nigeria Police Force has been drawn to a video circulating on the social media by the ‘Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria and others’ inciting Nigerians, home and abroad, to join a planned ‘revolution’ march against the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Monday, 5th August, 2019 with the sole aim of forcing a regime change in the country. “The Force wishes to state unequivocally that the call amounts to treasonable felony and acts of terrorism and will therefore not stand idly by and watch any individual or group in the society cause anarchy in the land. “While acknowledging the rights of Nigerians to embark on protest, the Force wishes to note that such rights should not translate to a violent and forceful change of government which clearly is the meaning of revolution.”
Expectedly, many Nigerians expressed doubt whether revolution, apart from one through the ballot box will do Nigeria any good given the fact that most revolutions ended up creating a cycle of crisis and violence. Nigeria, they said, is too fragile at the moment that a “careless push” could reenact the Somalia or Rwanda experiences in Africa’s most populous nation. Revolt, they further argued, should be avoided at all cost as history has shown that though it may come in different ways, its end results have always been the same – major changes in culture, economy, and socio-political institutions within a relatively short period of time.
However, there were members of a political school, who maintained that Sowore’s arrest and consequent detention might not see to the end to the visible angst in the land. They advised rather than using force against dissenting voices, the political class should ensure visionary leadership, which is the principal element that enables government to serve as a vehicle for the attainment of socio-economic aspirations of the citizenry. To these analysts, the leadership deficit that assails the country is so legendary that from all indications, the nation has continued to lag behind in an emerging world order that emphasises clear-headed and able leadership. Nigeria’s problem, they further argued, had never been paucity of funds and resources, but lack of political will to do the right thing.
This, according to them, explains why the country has stagnated in almost all facets, with rising insecurity compounding it woes. No doubt, the clampdown on the RevolutionNow protesters doused the brewing tension then, but it was knocks for the Federal Government thereafter over the DSS’s continued detention of Sowore despite court orders that granted him bail. The DSS had on arraignment of Sowore and a co-accused, Olawale Bakare, before a Federal High Court, Abuja, on a seven-count charge, bordering on treasonable felony, cyberstalking, fraud and insulting the president, filed an ex-parte application, seeking to keep him for 90 days for investigation on his call for revolution. But, the court presided by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, approved a 45-day detention, saying that the order was renewable after the expiration of the first 45 days. After the August 8 detention order elapsed on September 21 without renewal, and in view of DSS’s ex-parte motion earlier withdrawn, the judge ruled that there was no extant order for the activist’s continued detention and therefore ordered his immediate release.
The order was however not obeyed by the DSS. But counsel to Sowore, Femi Falana (SAN), who was not unawares of government’s disposition in similar cases involving ex-National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki and leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), returned the court with another application for bail to get Sowore off the gulag.
The application was granted on October 4 by a Federal High Court in Abuja, presided by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, who, however, barred Sowore and Bakare from addressing any rally pending the conclusion of their trial. Sowore was granted bail in the sum of N100 million with two sureties in like sum, but was barred Sowore from travelling out of Abuja and the second defendant out of Osogbo, during the trial.
The sureties, who must be resident in Abuja, must also have landed assets worth the bail sum in Abuja, and they are to deposit the original title documents of the assets with the court. The judge equally ordered that the defendants be remanded in the custody of the DSS, pending when they would meet the bail conditions. Falana, however, described the bail conditions as stringent. But, even when Sowore met the conditions, the spy police would not let go. His lawyers at a time claimed that they were being prevented from taking their client despite meeting his bail conditions.
The DSS, however, dismissed the claim on the ground that it was then yet to be informed by the court that Sowore had met his bail conditions. “The DSS has not been informed by the judicial authorities or any legal representatives that the bail conditions have been met accordingly. The media shouldn’t allow itself to be used as agents of misinformation,” the agency’s spokesperson, Peter Afunaya, said. After several claims and counter-claims, it was succour for Sowore and Bakare’s last Thursday, when Justice Ojukwu ordered the DSS to release them within 24 hours.
The judge, who gave the order at resumed hearing on the matter, said the DSS has no justifiable reason to continue to hold the duo in custody after she signed the warrants for their release.
The prosecuting counsel, Hassan Liman, had insisted that the DSS did not refuse to comply with the order of the court, but Justice Ojukwu held: “The failure of the prosecution to carry out the order of the court to serve the defence and in view if this adjournment is at the instance of the prosecution. And in view of section 396 of ACJA, I will award the cost of N100,000 against the prosecution. And in view of the refusal of the prosecution to release the defendant, this court will give the prosecution the next 24 hours to comply with the order of court.” While the judge insisted that the law cannot change for anybody and all must respect the law, adjourning to December 6 (next day – Friday) for a report on the court’s order, Sowore and Bakare were freed some hours later. They were released to Falana, who the DSS had earlier said was not the right person to release the duo to.
But, it turned out that it was not yet Uhuru for Sowore and Bakare as they were re-arrested on Friday in the courtroom and later taken to the DSS headquarters. As expected, the twist in the matter has triggered reactions from different quarters, with many condemning what they described as a “Gestapo operation by the DSS,” which might take Nigeria back to the days of military dictatorship. Former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last elections, Atiku Abubakar, who faulted Sowore’s re-arrest, said: “To keep Nigeria’s democracy is the paramount duty of all concerned stakeholders. Please speak up against this tyranny and side with the Nigerian people.”
Writing on his on his Twitter page, Atiku further said: “Without the rule of law, there can be no rule at all. Power in Nigeria still flows from the people, not from the barrel of a gun. I call on all men and women of goodwill not to keep quiet or sit on the fence at times like this.
“We cannot have a situation where our government is quick to obey foreign court orders and even quicker to disobey domestic court orders. This is symptomatic of a mindset that is servile to foreign powers and brutal to Nigerians.”
Another 2019 presidential candidate – Prof. Kingsley Moghalu of Young Progressives Party (YPP) – in a post he also made via his Twitter handle said: “I condemn the total disregard for rule of law by Nigeria’s present government as we have seen in the DSS desecration of the Nigerian judicial system to rearrest Omoyele Sowore. I call for his immediate release. Even accused persons are entitled to due process.”
Dr. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education, presidential candidate and Convener of Bring Back Our Girls campaign, on her part, said: “President Buhari, the whole world is watching the video of officials of the State Security Service which you directly supervise, brutally violate the constitutional rights of a citizen, Omoyele Sowore inside a court and desecrated our Judiciaryan independent arm of government.
“Let it also be known by Buhari that the cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of the power he wields today as Nigeria president is alien to our Nigerian Constitution and International Law. I advise the President to cease this descent to fascism immediately and respect Court orders. “It is in the interest of Buhari that Sowore comes to no form of bodily, mental or emotional harm. As the supervisor of the State Security Service, I demand that the President instructs the DG to immediately comply with the court order. Release Sowore immediately!” Sowore’s counsel, Falana, who also condemned the treatment meted to his client, called on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to take disciplinary actions against lawyers in President Buhari’s cabinet over what he described as desecration of the court with Sowore’s re-arrest at the Federal High Court in Abuja, causing a disruption of court proceedings.
He said there are 10 lawyers in the cabinet, with four of them Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who ought to live up to their oath to defend the constitution and other laws of the country, by ensuring that the rule of law was observed by the government. His words: “Even though President Muhammadu Buhari has a duty to caution the Department of State Services, the blame of the desecration of the court today (Friday) rests squarely on lawyers in government, who are under a duty to ensure that the rule of law is observed.
“They have all taken the oath to respect the Constitution and other laws of the country. That Constitution guarantees the independence and impartiality of the courts. They, therefore, cannot sit in a cabinet under a regime that terrorises the courts and subverts the rule of law.” Adding his voice, a United States senator, Menendez, said: “I am outraged by the blatant harassment of Omoyele Sowore, an activist and journalist whose only crime appears to be exercising his right to free expression.
“In a concerted effort to secure his release on behalf of the Sowore family living in New Jersey, my office has been working closely with the State Department as Mr Sowore’s case languished following his arbitrary arrest back in August.
“While we continue to seek immediate answers about Sowore’s treatment and conditions in jail, I will be further engaging directly with US Ambassador, Mary Beth Leonard, in Abuja to raise this case at the highest levels of the Nigerian Government so that the Buhari administration gets the message that we are committed to defending Sowore’s rights and securing his release. “This blatant miscarriage of justice is symptomatic of closing political and media space in Nigeria.”
While mum is the word from the DSS over its re-arrest of Sowore, Special Assistant on Social Media to the President, Lauretta Onochie, said the activist dramatized the incident to paint the DSS black. A piece titled ‘Every lie will expire,” written by Onochie, read in part: “So it was a stage managed drama in the court yesterday (Friday); Sowore pinned down by his supporters in a courtroom in order to give DSS a bad name.
“There was no gun. No baton. No pinning down; just plain drama, planned and staged by his boys and girls. Kudos, but every lie has an expiration date. Many eyewitnesses have said DSS was outside the courtroom, not inside the courtroom.
“Blackmailing government enforcement agencies was how our nation went into decay. It won’t work this time. No one is above the law. It appears everyone in that drama was part of the drama club. They harassed a court officer who wanted them out as they were disrupting another court case.
A lawyer who looked bemused with the whole drama was lost for words. “Drama will not help Sowore because once you dramatise a lie to the members of the public to attract sympathy, you lose all of that sympathy when they find out you have misled them.”
No doubt, the Buhari administration has maintained that it is committed to the rule of law, but how it walks its talk will prove if it is in line with the United Nations (UN) definition of the principle – governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.
North as beneficiary of Nigeria’s imbalance’ll not concede to restructuring – Farounbi
Dr. Yemi Farounbi, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Philippines, in this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, speaks on state of the nation, the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration and calls for restructuring of the country, among other issues
What is your take on the state of the nation?
Nobody is certainly happy with the present situation of Nigeria. Nobody is happy with the level of hunger, poverty and anger pervading the society. A lot of the criminal activities you see may be a reflection of deep seated anger; sometimes against the system or against the society or it may be a reflection of the high level of hunger that is also within the society. Nobody is happy with the criminality that is still going on in the North-East. Nobody is happy at the criminality that goes on in the mining-related area in the North-West. Nobody is excited at the level of kidnapping that pervades the South or the associated security risk that comes from the rampage of the Fulani herdsmen. So, when you put all of these together, nobody is happy because Nigeria is not where it ought to be and we sometime don’t appear to be making adequate efforts to be where Nigeria should be.
Why is Nigeria not where it ought to be?
It is a combination of factors; some of them are historical, while some are contemporary. They are historical because successive leaderships lost the opportunity to realise the potential of this country. They were unable to harness the energy of the various people of Nigeria. They were unable to translate the dreams of the founding fathers into reality. So, countries that we were ahead of in 1960 are now very much ahead of us. We had a succession of bad economic policies and bad leadership. We must not forget also that the intervention of military for some 28 years did this country no particular good. On the contrary, it destroyed democracy. It destroyed the essence of the nation itself.
For example, in 1960, we had three regions and there was clamour that the Northern Region was too big; it should be broken but conspiracy and politics led to breaking of the West into Western and Mid-Western regions and not the breaking of the North that was at that time monolithic. When General Yakubu Gowon eventually took over from Maj. General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, he created 12 states, an equity – six in the North and six in the South. By the time Murtala Muhammed came, he created 19 states; nine in the South and 10 in the North and since then that distortion introduced by military aberration has been sustained.
So, today, we have 17 states in the South and 19 in the North. And because it was military dictatorship that created these federating units, it went further to distort the structural basis of Nigeria by creating local governments that were entrenched in the constitution. Let me illustrate; the old Kano State that has the present Kano and Jigawa had 20 local governments and Lagos had 20 local governments. They both have about the same population. Somebody, a military man created Jigawa out of Kano and gave Jigawa 27 local governments and gave the remnant of Kano 44 local governments. If you add the two together, that mean both Kano and Jigawa now have 71 local governments, but in the constitution, Lagos State has 20 local governments. So, this structural distortion had created a basis for some of the problems we have today.
The other thing, of course, as a result of military aberration is that 52.75 per cent of our total national revenue goes to the centre as against about 20 to 27 per cent, when we started. So, the centre now has so much money compared to the responsibility it has to carry and that makes the competition for the centre so bitter and deadly. The 36 states have to share about 25 per cent among themselves and 774 local governments have to share about 24 per cent. That doesn’t make sense. It means that funds are being pushed to the centre, whereas the duties are in the local governments and states.
So, all of these added together and built over a period had cumulated into the disaster that we have and that is why there will be continued agitations in this country either for Sovereign National Conference, so as to be also to redress glaring imbalance or call for restructuring to have a situation in which the federation units will become a counter-balance to the centre.
You talked about continuous agitation for Sovereign National Conference or restructuring to resolve some issues in the country, but there have been convocation of conferences in the past without any positive result…
It is because there is already a structural imbalance. Those who benefit from the structural imbalance will never allow an agitation to succeed. Nineteen states in the North multiply by three means they have more senators, members of House of Representatives and local governments. It is the South that is shortchanged that is agitating. Will those who have been benefiting from this structural imbalance be patriotic or nationalist enough to allow for equity to take-over?
Are you invariably saying the North will not concede to restructuring of Nigeria?
They will not. It will be political suicide to submit and surrender power you didn’t ask for, but which military leaders conferred on you. So, that is why there would be changes in the constitution; there would be amendment in the constitution, but you will find out that all the amendments that have taken place did not touch the heart of the problem; they will talk about the peripheral.
You attributed Nigeria’s problem to the military, but in the last 20 years, we had uninterrupted civilian administration. Don’t you think that the civilians ought to have addressed all the problems you lighted?
There have been attempts to address them, but the attempts will not succeed because you have to be guided by a constitution that was not prepared by Nigerians. It was a constitution that was donated to us by the outgoing military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. It was a constitution that was produced by a small committee led by Justice Niki Tobi. It was a constitution that didn’t have a constitutional conference or constituent assembly. Now, this constitution is there and it has provision for amendment. The provision for amendment means that it will pass the Senate and House of Representatives, where the North has majority and it has to be endorsed by two-third of the state Houses of Assembly where the North also has majority. So, how will it happen no matter how much noise you make?
We need to have a leadership that loves Nigeria properly. Mikhail Gorbachev was president of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and USSR was a formidable world power, almost at per with the United States (U.S.), but because Gorbachev was a nationalist and patriot, he realised that the cumbersome arrangement and structure of USSR will not allow for growth and competitiveness, so he broke USSR even though it meant that he himself lost power as president. He created Russia, Ukraine and so one and so forth. And Russian alone, which is just an entity of that USSR, is today almost competing with U.S. That happened because, Gorbachev was a leader, who was not thinking of his own ethnic base, but considered the overall interest of the country and wanted to put in place, a structure that will allow for economic, social, political and cultural growth and overall development of his country.
Are you saying Nigeria has not witnessed a patriotic leader?
Chief olusegun Obasanjo is the best person that probably could have done it, but he has a fanatic believe in Nigeria, which is good. But, being a military man, he subscribed to a hierarchical order of things. The General dictates to the Brigadier; the Brigadier dictates to the Colonel; the Colonel dictates to Lieutenant Colonel and so on. That is not an ingredient of democracy. In a democratic situation, the president and the governor are not superior and subordinate; they are equal because they were both elected to represent certain people. So, he didn’t have the proper perspective, but of course, when it comes to other issues that were not structural, you will see evidences of what he did. Umaru Yar’Adua didn’t have enough time and I think Goodluck Jonathan just didn’t understand the issues. But even if he understood the issues, he would be unable to get it through the National Assembly.
Let me give you an illustration. The last National Assembly thought there was something wrong with the electoral system and came up with an amendment to the Electoral Act, which they thought would take care of deficit in integrity that our electoral process had.
They passed it and you know how many times President Muhammadu Buhari returned it and because of the structural imbalance already inherent in the National Assembly, they could not muster the majority to override the veto.
And so, we were left with what we complained about and we saw what happened subsequently in the general election. It is not only that you need a patriotic leader, but a patriotic leader that has character and commitment, and who can market the concept. When Nelson Mandela took over in South Africa, there were other Africans living and working in South Africa and there was nobody who dared to lift his hand against fellow Africans.
But when he left, there was degradation in the quality and today we talk about xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in spite of contributions of Nigeria towards dismantling apartheid in South Africa. It was because we have now leadership that is no longer in charge, but is playing to the gallery to be able to attract the interest of the North that explains why I insist that we need a leader that is committed to Nigeria; a leader that is committed to fair play, justice, equity, structural equalization of this country; a leader that has the capacity and the moral authority to market this concept to all parts, so that all Nigerians will know that it is in the best interest of all of us to live in a house that allows equal accommodation and comfort than to leave in one that only allows a higher and dual levels of citizenry.
It doesn’t matter how long it takes, a house that is not built on equity will suffer cracks.
How would you access President Buhari’s administration so far based on the promises he made to Nigerians before becoming president?
I will look at this from two points of view. First, Nigerians for whatever reason, seemed so anxious to get rid of Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that they didn’t really care enough to inquire into what the incoming government is going to do for them.
He said he will fight corruption, nobody asked him, how he would fight corruption and what would be the time limit?
I don’t think he has fought corruption even the same way Obasanjo did it. Obasanjo removed a permanent secretary; he jailed an Inspector-General of Police, who was a Yoruba man like himself; he removed a Senate President and also a minister, who were PDP members like him. We saw that he had a commitment to the fight against corruption.
Of course, without him there would be no Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC). So, if Buhari has such a deep commitment to the fight against corruption, we are not saying he should enact new laws to set up new agencies, but should have looked at loopholes of existing agencies. And the first thing I expected him to do was to go to the National Assembly to make an amendment that will block the loopholes.
They are now talking of special courts after five years in office. They are now looking at the slowness of justice. I thought those are some of the things he ought to have seen. He ought to have seen plea bargaining and blocked the loopholes from that.
He ought to have seen that there are cases filed by the EFCC that have been there for over 10 years over arguments on technicalities. He said he would take care of security. Apart from the fact that they told us that we have technically defeated Boko Haram, whatever happened, we know that Boko Haram is still operating.
And as a matter of fact, the security of the nation has never been as threatened as this. Today, people feel so inconvenient that they want the country dismantled. A lot of people are talking of secession today. It is not only Nnamdi Kanu of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) alone; there are others groups in the South that have began to think that secession might be the answer because of the spate of security. South-West was relatively safe in those days, but recently experienced security challenges because of the spate of kidnapping.
The danger in the South-South is still there. So, when you look at all of these, can you say that security is still intact? I doubt it. He said he would handle the economy. There was a time that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria was between eight to nine per cent; we are barely crawling at two per cent now.
So, can he say that he has tackled the problems of the economy?
Have we tackled the employment situation?
Have we created jobs? Yes, we criticised that too much was spent on power, but for six years now, we have been spending money on power, but the situation has not changed. They criticised the former government, yet the rail sector has not taken off. The only one that is functioning, which is Abuja-Kaduna, was almost 99 per cent completed before Buhari came on board.
Are you invariably saying that the PDP administration was better than the incumbent APC government?
Not necessarily! That is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that the problem the PDP administration faced is different from Buhari’s own.
When Obasanjo got there, for example, the problem he faced was that we were a pariah nation; nobody wanted to touch us because of the excesses of General Sani Abacha. But, he rehabilitated Nigeria and became acceptable in the comity of nations. Buhari doesn’t have that one.
When Obasanjo got there, we were still afraid of the military coming back, but he made sure that such happened by massive retirement of military people, who held political positions. Yes, we knew there was corruption; he set up ICPC within months in office and within another three months, he put EFCC in place.
So, those were different issues. We owed $35 billion; he liquidated it. But we have accrued more debts in the last five years than we did in the last 14 to 15 years. So, there is no basis for comparing government; you compare the performance against the challenges it is facing. I am not saying that the PDP government is better; they lost opportunity. I thought that PDP ought to have restructured this country because it was one of the top points that they put in their agenda and manifesto, but in 16 years they didn’t. They missed the opportunity of restructuring this nation and putting it on a solid path.
The easiest way to put the nation on the solid path is to look at the foundation; they didn’t do that. This government also promised restructuring; go and read the APC manifesto. They have not and they have even refused to do it. They have even refused to consider the over 600 resolutions of the 2014 National Conference that were unanimously agreed on. Even if it is taken that not that the resolutions touched the fundamentals, but they would have move Nigeria forward.
Do you see PDP bouncing back to power in 2023?
I don’t; not because they cannot, but because this government will not allow that.
How will it do that?
This government understands power; they are not careless about handling of power. You see demonstrations in recent elections. They are not like a pastor or sheik that Jonathan was. So, it is not likely and unfortunately too, because of massive indiscipline within the PDP and perhaps corruption within the party in the selection of candidates. You saw it in Bayelsa.
The PDP has not learnt any lesson because if they have, they would have apologised genuinely to this country for errors they committed; errors of omission and errors of commission. If there has not been no disconnect between Jonathan and Obasanjo, they would still have been in power. If there has not been a deliberate attempt by Jonathan’s administration to sideline the South-West, he probably would still have been in power.
There wouldn’t have been a coalition of the South-West and North-West that enthroned Buhari. And because Buhari knows what power is, he makes sure he keeps on consolidating that relationship as some Christians would say, by fire by force. So, for PDP to take over, they need structural change of the party; they need rethinking and realignment. The incumbent government is unwilling to surrender power. So, when you have a party that is unwilling to change or to restructure to be able to assess power again and you have a party in power that is unwilling to concede power; it means that the present status quo might be with us for some time.
What is your view on the agitation for the 2023 presidency between the North and the South?
There should be no controversy except by people who really believe in a monolithic control of Nigeria.
The concept of rotation between the North and South was not built into the constitution, but it is what you call an unwritten item of our constitution.
Why did power come to the South in 1999? Why was it that the contest was between Obasanjo and Olu Falae?
It was because the North realised that they denied Nigeria the opportunity of having the best president Nigeria never had and having a president who won the freest and fairest election. So, it occurred to them that they should give it to the South. And Obasanjo and PDP in obedience to this unwritten item of our constitution made sure that it was Yar’Adua in 2007 and that was one of the reasons why Buhari won in 2015.
The South was intruding into the time of the North, when Jonathan took over to complete the term of Yar’Adua. So, Nigerians must favourably dispose to returning power to the North. But giving the structural imbalance already identified by me, if the North decides to monopolise power, the structural imbalance may allow them to do so. But, in a decent society, it is not an issue for debate; after eight years of the North, it should be the South. Don’t you think that the South may lose the 2023 presidency to the North based on this structural imbalance you mentioned? Look at the arithmetic of the last result; a Northern candidate will win overall without the South.
Are you saying that North can win the presidency without the South? They only need tokenistic contributions from the South. Didn’t Obasanjo win without the South in 1999?
So, if you look at the arithmetic, the election results in the North-West, North-East and North-Central; they already have the majority and you know to be president, you need first, majority votes, then you need 25 per cent in two-third of the states in the country.
That is what they will be looking for. And knowing the composition of the South, their inclination and love for money, they will get the 25 per cent and that would be it.
Will it be fair on the South for the North to have another shot at the presidency after President Buhari?
It will not be fair but this people don’t love the nation; that is what I am saying. If they love the nation, we will have a structure and realign this country for competitive growth.
We would have created a situation in which nobody will want to die to be president in Abuja. People would rather be more concerned about being leaders of the federating units. But because this is not a fair country and these are not fairminded people, we are where we are.
Weapon proliferation huge threat to democracy, say security experts
hereas democracy has become a globally accepted form of government with a leadership recruitment system built on candidates’ popularity and people-friendly political manifestoes, indications are rife that this system of government and indeed political stability on the African continent is under threat.
The threat which is currently assuming elephantine dimension is posed by one phenomenon – proliferation of small, medium and light weapons (SMLW) around Nigeria and in African. Millions of these, according to security experts are on the streets and in wrong hands posing great threat to democracy.
Those were the submission of security experts from both public and private sectors and journalists on the issue and they are united on the fact, even as they expressed serious apprehension over its dangerous influence on the political process and political stability on the continent and its 1.2 billion population
Speaking at the Annual Lecture of the Crime Reporters Association of Nigeria, (CRAN), which held in Lagos, they lamented that politicians’ desperation for power has turned elections to battle fields in Nigeria, as the political process becomes a do-or-die affair, and the political elites exacerbated the process by procuring arms for thugs and complement this with inflammatory remarks.
In a lead paper titled “Proliferation of Arms: A Threat to Democracy,” delivered by Chief Dennis Amachree, a retired Deputy Director of State Service (DSS), he saw the phenomenon on the African continent as an offshoot of the Arab Spring of 2011 and thereafter.
Similarly, Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar expressed concern over “the way arms and ammunitions are being imported, smuggled, made and possessed in the country.” He said the police were not unaware of impact of this on the security, economy and the political process in the country.
Quoting the 1997 Report of the United Nations Panel of Government, Amachree defined Small Arms as weapons for personal use, and this category includes revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, assault rifles, sub-machine guns and light machine guns.
While light weapons on the other hand, are designed for attack or defense in combat or hunting. These include light machine guns, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, recoilless rifles, portable launchers of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and mortars of calibers less than 100mm.
According to him, one of the spectacular events which fuel weapon proliferation occurred on October 21, 2011, a day after the demise of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, when intelligence sources picked up the movement of about 100 Hilux trucks of Gaddafi loyalists crossing the Sahara Desert, toward West Africa. These trucks were reportedly loaded with small arms and light weapons, stolen from the private stockpile in the presidential palace of the former Libyan leader.
“At that time, it was observed that because there was no joint international military cooperation among the West African States, no government made any attempt to intercept the long convoys approaching the region. The convoy dispersed into Cameroun, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and as far west as Senegal. This situation was not helped by the porous borders that exist along the northern periphery of all West African states.
“A sizeable quantity of the small arms and light weapons were bought by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian who is sometimes referred to as ‘The One-Eyed Nelson’ or ‘the Uncatchable.’ He was a major weapons dealer and later assumed the leadership of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.
“Other recipients of these Libyan weapons were Iyad Ag Ghaly, the Tuareg militant leader from Mali and Abu Mohammed al-Shekau, a Kanuri and leader of Boko Haram. These weapons became the game changer in the war against terrorism and insurgency in West Africa. Boko Haram became more daring,” and so commenced the proliferation with its deadly consequences.
At the continental level, despite the Conventions and Protocols on small arms and light weapons in the region, the West African sub-region has been active with one kind of conflict or the other. Liberia, Cote I D’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria and the Central African Republic have different ongoing conflicts. And as the conflicts progress, so are the new inflows of SALW into the pockets of instability.
Quoting a report, Amachree said out of the estimated eight million small arms and light weapons in circulation in Africa, about 75 per cent, totaling 600 million are in Nigeria, mostly in private hands like former militants, terrorists and opposition political parties who could use such arms to truncate democracy.
Other factors precipitating weapon proliferation especially in Nigeria’s 2,777km of ungoverned land borderlines “with four French speaking countries who depend on us, but care less of our unity and leadership; and a 853km long Atlantic coastline.”
Consequent on this, the weapons fuel the activities of Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, armed banditry and kidnappings in the North-West, Biafra separatists in the South-East, Delta militants and kidnappings in the South-South, ritual killings, kidnappings and urban crimes in the south-west and cultism in universities across the country. All these security threats are fueled by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
Equally disturbing is the activities of governors who massively purchased firearms to arm non-state actors to obstruct or truncate the democratic process ostensibly in the name of fighting insecurity as noted in the past governments in Zamfara and Ogun states.
Recall that the governor of Zamfara State, Governor Bello Matawale recently said his predecessor should account for the 1,400 rifles he purchased during his tenure, while his counterpart in Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun drew public umbrage on the release of about 2,000 rifles and ammunitions to the police towards the end of his tenure.
A few hours to the end of his tenure as Ogun State helmsman, Governor Amosun had contacted the State Commissioner of Police, Bashir Makama, stating that he had thousands of arms and millions of ammunition in store at an armoury in Government House, and that he had decided to hand them over to the police.
A bewildered Makama had raced to Government House with some of his subordinates and found truckloads of arms and ammunition brought out of a nondescript armoury inside the Government House. It included at least four million rounds of ammunition, 1,000 units of AK47 assault rifles, 1,000 units of bulletproof vests and an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC).
The interception of over 2,000 pump action rifles by the Nigerian Customs Service in the few months before the last elections, and bizarre use used of shooting, thuggery and violence in the Kogi State governorship election, which he described as a sham, caught Amachree’s attention.
Threat to democracy
The experts at the event observed that “illegal possession of small arms could engineer the outbreak of conflicts to make the country or state ungovernable; ruling parties, in a bid to hold on to power, could use state-owned arms to threaten and sometimes kill members of the opposition.
“Elements in an opposition party could use illegal arms to overthrow a government, no matter the dangers. Even in non-democratic governments, the series of military coups in Nigeria are an example. Top government officials, including the president could be assassinated to effect a change in the government. Situations like this have played out in countries like the USA and Nigeria.
“During the last elections, there was a chieftain of a political party who was caught on tape, arranging how many AK47s his “boy” will need during the elections. Another politician was threatening fire and brimstones on an opposition party, during a rally. No one of these politicians was cautioned for this act against democracy. Rather, one of them was actually supported with small arms and light weapons by state actors during the elections.
Amachree in particular, noted that “the whole shenanigans of politicians and non-state actors in their quest for power have inadvertently encouraged the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Elections have become a battlefield in Nigeria today, with all the major political parties breathing and threatening fire and brimstones.”
In the same, the Olu Iwo of Iwo, Oba Adewale Akanbi, frowned at the spread of firearms and its impact on criminality, and advocated death penalty for treasury looters, kidnappers, ritualists, cultists, corrupt public officials and politicians to serve as a deterrent to others.
The royal father, while commending the war declared on corruption by President Muhammadu Buhari, observed that punitive measures put in place to stop the corruption train were not enough. “China, a civilized and developed nation, has death penalty for corruption, theft of public funds and official corruption. Nigeria should copy same.”
Oba Akanbi found it so inexplicable that Nigeria, a blessed nation, which according to him is richer than Canada, lacks basic infrastructures, which he traced to corruption
Earlier, the chairman of the occasion, Dr. Bone Efoziem, Managing Director, Strict Guards, lamented that that the massive size of Nigeria borders covering 723, 767 km square posed a great challenge to the security agencies and called for inter-agency cooperation to succeed in the ear on weapon proliferation.
Inspector-General of Police, who was represented at the event, the AIG Zone 2 Command, Iliasu said the police have adopted various strategies including Operation PUFF ADDER over time to combat crime ragging from kidnapping to banditry and weapon proliferation check and other forms of criminality.
To him, the strategies have served as veritable anti-crime machine to dismantle all forms of crimes and criminality, central to which is mopping of all arms and other instruments of criminality. Accordingly, the Zone 2 Command under Iliasu’s watch has created a re-branded PUFF ADDER, hence he enjoined members of the public to be vigilant and give information to the police on any form of perceived crime in their neighborhood.
Besides commending crime 5 reporters, who he described as repository of daily crime and security activities in the country, Lagos State Police Commissioner, Mr. Akeem Odumosu called for a collaborative efforts in combating crimes and controlling proliferation of weapons.
The gathering of security experts stressed the need for urgent ratification of the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, since this will commit member states to controlling the unabated flow of these arms into the region. They also advocated integration of the divergent local legislatures existing among countries that share the same borders in the sub-region.
Of equal importance is their call on political parties to adhere to a code of ethics, fair play in the conduct of their primaries and adopt spirit of sportsmanship, because elections must be won and lost. Political parties must eschew the mentality of winner takes all and loser can go to hell, but adhere to the non-violence agreements signed by leading contenders of the major parties.
African governments were also charged to make placing stricter controls on importation of small arms and light weapons their policy priority, while Nigeria needs to work with conventional arms manufacturers and exporters to strictly control their exports against illegal diversion.
As difficult as this may be, government needs to pay more attention to border security, because though illegal routes will always exist, good border control is imperative. They also called for tougher laws against illegal possession of SALW while a nation-wide mop-up of SALW is carried out nationwide. Nigerians should strive to achieve national security from the perspective of human security, because if the individual is safe from small arms, the country’s democracy is also secured.
Dangling sword over fringe parties
The recent verification exercise of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of the headquarters of registered political parties in the country is causing apprehension in the polity. Is it a plan to deregister some of the parties? asks ONYEKACHI EZE
lthough the verification is a routine exercise periodically embarked upon by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as part of its monitoring of the activities of registered political parties in the country, but the ongoing exercise has raised a lot of questions. Is it meant to deregister some of these parties that failed to meet the requirements? Or is it simply to update the commission’s record.
Apart from Benin Republic, Nigeria holds the unenvious record of an African country with the highest number of political parties. This attracted the attention recently, of the United Nations, which said such number could distract the electorate from electing quality leaders.
Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambers, Special Representatives of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa, during a courtesy call on the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in Abuja earlier this year, said there is the need to look at the mode of political party registration in the country.
Dr. Chambers said: “In the last elections in Nigeria, many of you will recall that there were 73 presidential candidates. I am not talking about registered political parties but presidential candidates. With the usual Nigerian people, some people even referred to the ballot paper as a tablecloth on account of its length and breadth.
“Of course, that also has its own challenges and for countries in our sub-region, presenting them with such long list of candidates sometimes distracts them from the quality of the process and informed decisions by the electorate.”
Musa Husunu, deputy director in the Election and Party Monitoring (EPM) department of INEC who led a team to the headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last Monday, listed the guidelines for the verification.
The law requires every registered political party to have its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, as well as to maintain offices in at least, two-third of the 36 states of the country.
Husunu explained there should be evidence of the party’s “headquarters in the FCT because it is one of the criteria. A political party must have office in any of the Area Councils in the FCT.
“Second is the five copies of the constitution of the party. Then we also have list of NWC (National Working Committee) members, then membership register, then, book of account.
“The next thing is that we have to go round and ensure that from the Chairman down the ladder, there is physical presence of offices for NWC members.”
Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, revealed plans by the National Assembly to deregister 85 nonperforming political parties before the 2023 general elections.
Gaya, after a meeting with the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, described some of the political parties as figure heads with no relevance or “elected personalities.”
He was quoted to have stated: “Regarding reforms in the Electoral Act, first of all, we are looking at the issue of the number of political parties. Actually, they are too many; we have 91 political parties; and currently, the court has added another party which makes them 92.
“Many are still applying; but there is a criteria constitutionally, that parties should have a kind of qualification or at least requirement before they are registered. Actually, we are going to deregister almost 85 political parties because they are unqualified.
“They don’t even have a counselor or a House of Assembly member; so all those parties should be deregistered. But there is a problem; if you deregister them, they will go through the back door and register again.
“We need to now have tough conditions for registration of political parties whereby we could maintain the number of four or five by God’s grace.”
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), in an article titled, “INEC’ fresh power to deregister political parties,” said not more than 10 of the registered parties would survive if INEC applies strictly the provisions of the constitution for political party de-registration.
According to him, the May 2017 amendment to Section 225 of the 1999 Constitution empowers INEC to deregister any political party on the grounds of “(a) breach of any of the requirements for registration; (b) failure to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in: (i) One state of the federation in a presidential election; or (ii) one local government of the state in a governorship election; (c) failure to win at least – (i) one ward in the chairmanship election; (ii) one seat in the national or state House of Assembly election; or (iii) one seat in the councillorship election.
“From the foregoing, it is indubitably clear that INEC has been conferred with enormous powers to deregister political parties that fail to meet the fresh constitutional prerequisites. Going by the results of the 2019 general elections, the 91 registered political parties may have been reduced to less than 10 that may have scaled the constitutional hurdle.”
Out of the 89 political parties that fielded candidates in the 2019 general elections, only three won the governorship while less than five of them won seats into the National Assembly. This means that over 85 political parties have no business in the electoral process.
In December 2012, INEC deregistered 28 political parties. The commission said its decision was based on the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
Section 78 (7)(ii) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended empowers INEC to deregister political parties that fails to win a seat either in the National or state Assembly. None of deregistered parties won any seat in the 2011 general elections.
Fresh Democratic Party (FDP), which was one of the political parties deregistered by INEC, challenged the action of the commission in court. It asked the court to declare section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act, 2010 is unconstitutional, invalid, null and void to the extent that it offends the provisions of section 40 and sections 221-229 of the 1999 Constitution as it violated the provisions of sections 36, 38 and 40, as well as sections 221-222 of the 1999 Constitution, and paragraph 15 of the 3rd schedule (part 10 of the Constitution) among others.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, in his judgement, declared the deregistration null and void.
Justice Kolawole said: “The criteria by which the National Assembly delimited deregistration to failure to win seat in state and National Assembly elections appears like nothing but legislative arbitrariness, since INEC has powers to conduct other elections.
“INEC would not have lost anything by issuing the Fresh Democratic Party with a query to enhance the integrity of its decision.”
A Constitutional lawyer, Realwan Okpanachi, agrees with Falana that INEC does not need further amendment to the constitution to deregister political parties. Okpanachi said the position of the law had changed since President Muhammadu Buhari assented the Fourth Alteration, No. 9 Act, 2017, which was enacted in 2017. He said the president’s assent conferred on INEC the power to deregister political parties by the amendment of Section 225 of the 1999 constitution.
“By the said amendment and introduction of Section 225(A), INEC can now deregister political parties on grounds of breach of any requirements for registration,’’ he said.
The requirements, he listed to include, “Failure to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election, or one local government of the state in governorship election.
“Failure to win at least one ward in chairmanship election, one seat in the National or State House of Assembly election or one seat in the councillorship election.
“What INEC should be talking about is how to deregister many of the commercialised political parties that have failed to satisfy any of the conditions in Section 225(A) of the constitution,’’ Okpanachi said.
The number of political parties in the country is causing confusion instead of improving the electoral system. During the last presidential elections, the number of invalid votes was put at 1, 289, 607 votes, which was much higher than total number of votes recorded for 71 other parties put together.
Pundits attributed this to the size of the ballot paper. Most of the votes got spoilt during folding of the over-sized ballot paper and attempt to squeeze it inside the voting box.
Again, many illiterate electorate found it difficult differentiating the acronyms of most of the parties. This resulted in double voting.
In 1999 when only two political parties fielded candidates in the presidential election, the number of invalid votes was 431, 611, out of a total of 30, 280, 052 votes cast. It is inconceivable that the nation could record as high as over a million invalid votes 20 years after.
The UN envoy simply spoke the mind of average Nigerians.
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), Mr. Charles Ambaiowe said a reduction in the number of political parties in the country is overdue. According to him, there is no point having non-performing parties on the ballot papers all in the name multi-party system.
“Many of them are hangers-on and appendages of the two major political parties. During elections, some neither campaign nor field candidates. Rather, they come up to endorse candidate of the major political parties for monetary benefits.
“The system is too weedy such that INEC chairman once said it was cumbersome listing all the parties on a single ballot paper. Ironically some of the political parties who had made no impact in the elections have called for cancelation of election because of the omission of their names on the ballot,” he said.
Sources said the fringe parties have become something akin to private businesses of the chairmen, their wives and children who often manipulate and utilize the funds collected and attend capacity training sponsored local and international agencies.
“The parties have become like private companies while the INEC is something akin to the CAC, who merely registers them, only for the parties to serve the interest of the chairman and his family.
“At one of our quarterly meeting with the INEC, the electoral umpire’s chairman told us that the wife of one of the parties’ chairman is the Woman Leader and his son the National Youth Leader. Hence three members of the executive council are from his family,” the source said.
When APC govs endorsed Lalong’s achievements
hen the Progressives Governors’ Forum met recently in Jos, the Plateau State capital, it was an opportunity for Governor Simon Lalong to showcase what he is doing in the state.
The two-day parley, which started with a dinner on Sunday, November 24 and reached a climax on Monday, November 25, was also an avenue for the chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum to show his commitment, vision of providing accountable and responsible leadership to the people of the state.
The parley, which focused on internal security, education and health, gave Governor Lalong an opportunity of discussing some of his efforts through agencies such as the Plateau Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Plateau Health Insurance Scheme, Plateau Disability Rights Commission, Plateau Peace Building Agency, ICT Development Agency as well as Plateau Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency.
To him, infrastructural development is very critical to every state, hence he confronted it headlong. This is why he embarked on massive infrastructural projects going on across the state with many either completed or nearing completion. They include the Secretariat Flyover, Mararaba Jamaa Road as well as the Maiango roads. They are evidence of the governor’s efforts in road construction and urbanization.
Governor Lalong has developed and pursued an efficient economic blueprint in Plateau State. Apart from ensuring regular payment of salaries to civil servants, has made them to give him an new name – Governor Alert.
Speaking as the host during the Progressive Governors, parley Lalong disclosed that his administration has set in motion plans to host an Economic and Investment Summit where the state intends to open up Plateau State to domestic and foreign investors and rebranding the state to it slogan as the Home of Peace and Tourism.
Peace and security are critical to the life of every state, every people. There is remarkable peace in Plateau State and this is made possible by the governor’s excellent security initiatives which ultimately provide a buffer for investments, business activities and good social life.
According to Lalong: “This parley is another endorsement of the efforts we have put in to restore peace to Plateau State which has seen many people coming back and new ones coming to the nation’s preferred destination.
“We have since come up with a Five-Year Strategic Development Plan which is guiding our next level vision where we are prioritising various projects in education, health, agriculture, mining and tourism which we believe can turn around the economic fortunes of our state if properly harnessed.”
Lalong said his administration in the state has also unified the youths, women, leaders and elders of the state such that political parties in the state today merely exist in the books even as access to better life is no longer determined by political consideration or illogical sentiments.
“For us in Plateau State, there has been growing synergy among all stakeholders including the three arms of government as we continue our Rescue Mission through the three-point policy thrust of Peace, security and good governance, infrastructure development and sustainable economic rebirth “.
Leadership has a lot to do with relationship management and public relations. Good leaders, through their leadership styles, garner support and goodwill from the public, their colleagues and political party. Governor Lalong’s leadership acumen has led to countless endorsements from all sectors of the populace.
No wonder President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha during the parley commended the leadership qualities of Lalong for transforming the state with laudable projects.
According to Buhari, the current administration has remained committed to improving the welfare of all Nigerians.
The President said the decision to focus the parley on four key sectors, namely; transportation, health, education and humanitarian and disaster management were commendable.
Also the Progressive Governors Forum chairman and Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu described Lalong as messiah sent to Plateau State to bring peace and develop the state.
All the governors, ministers amongst other officials who attended the parley shower accolades on Governor Simon Lalong for transforming Plateau State.
The governors present included, Edo, Godwin Obaseki, Kaduna, Nasiru El Rufai, Niger, Abukabar Sani Bello, Kebbi State, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, Jigawa Abubakar Badiru Ekiti Kayode Fayemi, while the Governor of Gombe, Kano and Kogi states were represented by their deputies.
Others were the Minister of Transport Rt. Hon. Rotimi Ameachi and Minister of State for Education, Hon. Emeka Nwajuba.
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