Chief Charles Akintoye is a former acting National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and a chieftain of the party in Lagos State. In this interview with ANAYO EZUGWU, he speaks on the 2023 general election, the chances of PDP and the quest for a president of southern extraction, among others
What is the implication of the rejection of e-transmission of election results by the Senate?
To me as a person and a progressive Nigerian, it is a disaster if that is rejected. Even in the civilized world and developing world in Africa, they are moving towards that trend with development in information technology and artificial intelligence. But Nigeria is now rejecting a system that can even help the present administration. It will be a disaster if it is rejected.
We must go systematically in advancing our processes of development and management. The whole world is a small village now because of the internet but we are saying we don’t want to join that type of system; we don’t want to advance. If we do things electronically, we won’t see hooliganism during elections. You won’t see terrible campaigning and you won’t see votebuying. It is only people who don’t want progress for Nigeria that will advocate for the rejection of that bill.
What do you think is the implication of the bill’s rejection on Nigeria’s democracy; are we regressing with this kind of development?
Yes, we are regressing and that is what I have emphasized in my opening speech that we should join the world in using the best of technology that is available now to help us in our electioneering, which is the foundation of democracy. It is when you elect rightly that there will be opposition, there will be people in power, there will be government and that is democracy, where everybody will vote, the vote will count, everybody is heard and the majority governs. In fact, it is the real solid foundation for democracy. It is one of the best foundations anybody can think of at the moment.
The concerns of many people are the 2023 general election; do you think that this development will affect the credibility of the next elections?
I will not be able to confirm that because I’m not a magician and I’m not a prophet, who can see tomorrow but it is only people, who are myopic that will see 2023 as the all and end of Nigeria. There will still be 2027, 2031 and Nigeria will still be there. So, it is myopic to think that it is because of 2023 that this must be rejected. In fact, I can’t see the connection because the present administration keeps saying we will allow free and fair elections, but in the past, it has not been totally fulfilled. I mean, we have to take everything to the judiciary to adjudicate who wins an election or who loses. At the end of the day, I do not see how this will affect the 2023 general election. I know that there will be elections in 2023, God saving our lives, but it should be free and fair, otherwise, the country will be in crisis and we can’t predict what will happen. 2023 is not the end of Nigeria; there will be another four years. But to me, President Muhammadu Buhari should use the 2023 elections to ascertain and confirm that he is in support of free and fair polls. Jonathan can be credited for such. So, let Buhari be credited for it because it is an advantage to him to add more to whatever successes he has gained in administration.
Do you see the outcome of the voting in the Senate as a battle between APC and PDP because senators of the ruling party voted no to the section, while their PDP counterparts voted yes?
You see, when we talk about democracy, people say we are learning and making progress. This e-transmission of results is part of the process. To me, our Senate has always been divided between North and South, which is not right for us. At that level, they must think about Nigeria, not the region or constituency where they come from. They can do that when it is about the welfare or development for their constituencies, But when the issue is Nigeria, they should be able to act in consonance with the thinking of Nigerians rather than party, region or constituency. Yes, they must do what their constituencies prefer but the nation is more important to all of us than the South and North. At that level,our lawmakers must uphold that because the oath they took is to Nigeria not to region or constituency. So, to me, I don’t see it as a party thing. I see it in a larger way because it is very common. We are still being parochial, thinking about North and South. Are we not one Nigeria? So, let our lawmakers see it as a Nigerian issue rather than the regional or constituency issue.
With this development, do you think that issues like devolution of powers and state police, among others will scale the hurdle of the National Assembly in the ongoing review of the constitution?
I’m a very open human being and I will not change. Those people we call our senators and members of the House of Representatives; we elected them either rightly or wrongly. I believe that they are educated people and will do the right thing for Nigeria. History will judge them as having done their best or their worst for this country. Let history judge them of whatever decision they are taking. Like I always say, it is regionalism that we put in our mouth, actions and everyday activities that are still debasing the progress of this country. When we say America, England and other countries, it is because they are making progress in their democracy. They still have concerns but here, except we are lying, we are still practicing regionalism and if it is regionalism, then we may not be doing the best for Nigeria. We should do what is best for Nigeria. If electronic transmission of results and electronic voting will take us forward, let it take us forward. These lawmakers may go after 2023 and others will come and rubbish what they have done.
What this Ninth Assembly is doing must be such that other senators will come and build on rather than rubbish. So, let them be guided by the fact that we are talking about Nigeria and all those things you mentioned, if they will help the country, they should accept them. America and India are the best democracies in the world at the moment and they have state police. So, what stops us from having state police?
When you look at it, it is still regionalism thinking. Even in South Africa recently, the police could not control the situation and they have to bring in the army. If states have their own police, it will reduce crime by about 80 per cent. Federal police are all over the states now, except we equip them rightly, fund them rightly and give them powers that would not be detective. Our police system is still detective because if I become the governor tomorrow, God save the commissioner of police in that state if he is not listening to my whims and caprices. If we have state police as well; you may say that the commissioner will be subjugated to the governor and do his wishes but we learn in democracy. We learn by researching what America has achieved with state policing and let’s adopt it if it will not help us. It is progress for the country that is important. I pray they will believe in that mantra of Nigeria and that the labour of our heroes past should not be in vain because they are our present heroes, so may their labour not be in vain. But they must do the right thing.
You are someone who believes in pan-Nigeria, what is your take on the clamour for a Yoruba nation?
The clamour for Yoruba nation is born out of the present situation. Even the president himself knows that there is insecurity in the nation and at a level we have never seen in the past. He is trying his best because he is saying it all the time, let the army do their work and let the police shoot at sight. So, he is trying his best and he must have seen greater reports than you and I discussing it today. If electronic voting, restructuring, state police, devolution of powers are put in place rightly not politically, the agitation of wanting to break Nigeria will subside. States will start saying yes, we can control ourselves, our police are there, we can manage ourselves although we are still responsive to the federal authority. Let us copy the American system where the state of California alone has a budget that is bigger than the Nigerian budget for the police. It is only when the state cannot cope like what happened in South Africa that they will bring in the army. In fact, they wouldn’t call the army, the state will do everything possible because when you call the army to face your people, you are saying they should come against their own people rather than to go and fight other countries. Inviting the army is even unconstitutional except the president sees it as very necessary. So, let’s strengthen the police system and for once fractionalize this big outfit. It is not the police alone, there are other agencies of government that should be fractionalized as well but still subjugate to the federal government. Whether they call it true federalism or regionalism, it is effectiveness that is important. Let the Americans look forward to coming to work in Nigeria because it is a safe state and progressive because our senators are doing the right thing. Presently, Nigerians will take their daughters to go and wed in Dubai. Have you seen a Dubai man that comes to wed in Nigeria? If you go to the passport offices, you see millions of people wanting to take passports in order to migrate to other countries. We should structure Nigeria in such a way that people will like to come here and invest and develop with us just like Ghana is benefitting now.
With the number of defections happening in PDP, what is actually wrong with the party?
PDP is a victim of circumstance. The first problem is when you are in opposition’ you have problems. Except for anybody who does not know politics that will not understand what I have just said. If the managers of the party are not very careful when they are in the opposition, they have bigger problems. Yes, being in opposition alone, especially, against a very strong party in power, you have problems. The consequences of those two problems are when people start thinking: Am I in the right place. Shouldn’t I go to where the honey is flowing now? When you heard Adams Oshiomhole saying that when you cross to APC, your sins are forgiven, it is only saints that would not cross over. And how many Nigerians are saints, maybe very few because many of us Nigerians are not saints. I have said it in every way and manner but what I will still say is that those people, who are defecting will come back. A lot are deluded. A lot are confused. A lot are acting under pressure but when you look at it, the PDP is a broad-based party unlike any other party. We know that by this time next year when politicking becomes hotter than it is right now, you will see the real defections and I’m talking from experience.
Do you think that the PDP is ready for 2023 general election?
The party will always be ready and I just used the word broad-based. My suggestion is that the party should raise a committee headed by people who are experienced. I can name thousands of them. If you put someone like Chief Bode George as a chairman to reorganize, reenergize and reengineer PDP, winning 2023 will just be bygone. Bode George has the experience. He and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at the time of those eight years earned us the prestige of the democracy we are talking about today. Before Obasanjo, a lot of people did not want to sit with us at the same table at the United Nations. A lot of people saw Nigeria as a pariah state but Obasanjo came using Bode George as his man Friday. Tell me how many people today except the young ones that were not made governors through Bode George at that time. Our country became acceptable through Obasanjo’s time; we shouldn’t regress to that stage again. We will make progress if there is a committee headed by people like Bode George, with members like Sule Lamido, Governor Nyesom Wike, Governor Aminu Tambuwal and many others. Bode George has a lot of experience; he was in Wadata House for 11 years. The maximum anybody can do is six years but he was there for almost 11 years. So, PDP should look at that. If we have made a mistake in the past, we should correct it. You cannot say because your house is licking and you burn it down. You will get people of experience to change the roofing for you and that is what PDP needs now. Atiku should be seen to take the leadership of PDP almost immediately and be seen to be directing the party. APC has good leadership in our president. We too have good managers but because of the two problems that I said, opposition to the government of the day and fear because at the end of the day, nobody should be seen to be fighting the government. Even in opposition, you are careful and that is said about the present administrators of the PDP. We still keep this regionalism, ethnicity, religious bigotry and our leaders know that is a weakness in this country and they dwell on it for their own benefit and to win elections. They use religion to divide us but I remember when we were young in Lagos, there is no family that does not have Christian and Muslim members. At Christmas, they will celebrate. During Muslim festival they will celebrate and we the children will eat from both celebrations; we didn’t know the difference.
Do you think that the present leadership of the PDP is capable of setting up such a committee?
They are very capable. I know a lot of members of the present National Working Committee (NWC) because I was the National Secretary of the party, when Prince Uche Secondus was the National Vice Chairman to Alhaji Bamanga Tukur. I know his strength and his weakness. His strength is bigger than his weakness. If you are talking about his capability, he should be able to set up any committee. That man has the courage to a point of being called proud but it is courage, which is a virtue, he can set up that committee. But the committee must be set up without any interference. Let the committee reengineer the party and get it ready for 2023. It can be done in a week. They know the names they would put with Bode George based on geographical representation, and by the time they sit for two-three weeks and their recommendations are accepted and used, you will see that truly PDP is energized.
What do you make of the position of southern governors that the presidency should come the South in 2023?
I’m in full support of them because during Obasanjo’s time, there was rotation and it was agreed that the offices of the president, vicepresident, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and chairman of the ruling party must be shared among the six zones in the country, so that they all will have something to take back to their people. So, if the North has done two terms, let the presidency come to the South. When it comes to the South, the region will micro-zone it to the area they want. It could be South-East, South-West or South- South. So, to me, I support the idea that it should come to the South because nobody can deny the rotational basis that was agreed a long time ago.