By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
Professor Femi Otunbanjo, a former special adviser to two ex-Chiefs of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya (retd.) and the late Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe and a professor of International Politics and Security Studies, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in this interview spoke on various issues.
Speaking on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, on Monday, he said Senator Iyorchia Ayu’s insistence not to resign his position as National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is a moral commitment and not a legal, constitutional obligation.
Interesting developments are happening across board from INEC -registration, the elections in Ekiti, Osun and Anambra also held, they tried to deploy that system, which they say they will deploy nationally, in 2023, we’ll come to that as well. But then the politician themselves, are doing what they usually do. So from what you see, how should we relate to this? People seem bothered about it but looking at it from a distance, perhaps from your perspective, how do you see this playing out?
I see optimism, I see hope. I want you to understand that in the previous three presidential elections, we were almost in the pre-war situation, there was so much stress, there was so much threat of violence. But today, things are different, things are calmer with the national party conventions that they were devoid of any chaos. Now, nobody’s talking about threat of war. In 2011, people actually rioted after the election because the tension had already been built. In 2015, in fact, there would have been bloodshed.
So in 2019, it was the same thing, there was desperation in the system, there was some kind of desperation on the part of the major candidates as it were. But today, that is not there, we have a calm environment that we are going to have elections. Interestingly, we have the third force for the first time.
When you say today, it appears calm, could that be largely or partly owing to what you just spoke about, the third force because almost all the parties have some figures rallying around?
That’s one of the reasons but the fact is that the APC first, considering its candidacy already won a major element of tension; at the PDP is a fight of disagreement, which persists because of the experience in doing so in a very credible convention. And so these two candidates have emerged, fortunately, the two candidates have not shown that level of desperation we had in 2019, 2015, 2011.
There’s a reason?
Well, because they are friends and where they found themselves is head or tail, we win, because it is government by the rich for the rich.
It sounds like you’re saying that there is no difference between the two leading parties?
No. There is no difference of course. Am I to tell you that? Look at where Atiku is coming from. Atiku was APC, PDP, AC, now PDP.
How about the other two?
Of course, you know, Obi, APGA, PDP, Labour Party, is there any difference? Do you think if there was a difference people could change so dramatically? No, we don’t have strict ideological parties; what we have are collections and crops for winning elections.
To the dynamics that you spoke about the other time of how the elections are and the rest of it, how significant is the voting population that has increased by 12 million according to INEC in the build up to these elections?
But voting populations have always gone up, it is a demographic reality, populations grow every four, four years. So it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter whether six million or 12 million. I don’t think that’s a factor in the calmness and the pre-election stability that we’ll have today.
You don’t see that playing any significant role in the elections or how people respond?
No. I’m not dismissing it. But everything is always multi-factorial. It’s not one issue that will determine. I am very sure that first, the president is not returning. So, there’s no desperation for him to want to muzzle. Secondly, very critically, the APC was able to agree to shift power to the South. If that had not happened, we will not be where we are today. So there are many factors that contributed to stabilizing the polity.
This calmness that you talked about, do you see it reflecting in the voter turnout because what we have seen over the years, just as voter registration increases every four years, however, the percentage of turnout decreases even with the increase?
I am not in the business of soothsaying, it should be, it should increase it, because if people are not scared of the voting booth, they should be able to come out. But one critical point which we are driving at, is the digital factor, the mobilization that has taken place among young people, just as people used the internet to mobilize revolutions in the Arab Spring, we’re beginning to see that here that the young people are mobilizing themselves through digital channels. And that is going to affect the turnout, there’s no doubt. I expect that the turn out will be greater, in 2023 than ever before.
Also, if you listen to a review guest the other time, he was saying that, well, it is significant what you have said, the people who have been a researcher, determined the outcome of the elections are not on social media, don’t have digital devices and all of those things. So I’m wondering what your take is on that. Most of the people who determine the outcomes, their interests are different?
There are other groups that parties mobilize, candidates mobilise if you want more people to come out and vote for you. So, the additional and improved digital channel is going to make turn out to be a lot larger; and calmness, if people are not scared, if they don’t do it that if they get to the polling booth, they’re going to run into hoodlums or there will be violence or gunshots, they will come out and vote. Apart from that, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with other governance in Nigeria today. People want change, change to a government that focuses on their problems, everything is not working. And the people are getting poorer. You know, people think that the new government will change things. There’s that eternal hope that a new government is not necessarily a new party but they are thinking that once there’s a change of government, there’s the likelihood that new policies, new programmes, new projects will begin and their lots will increase.
When you speak about change or turn out, right from 1999 whenever it’s four years, there’s that enthusiasm, they’re upbeat, they want to go in and get something different but at the end of the day, after four or eight years, you see that despair that this is not what we thought it was getting to be?
I hope you know that in the past, people have not obviously been allowed to express themselves properly. I’m not sure that we have had any election whereby, the electorates actually chose. There has been so much manipulation, what to call rigging of election. We don’t know whether it’s people that we wanted that got there, well, we just got people elected. And apart from that, our political culture is still on the side of almost feudalism, aristocracy, autocracy in which the President, the governor becomes a liberal. In addition to a constitution that gives all the power to the President and the governors and the power corrupts they say? Absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, the governors do what they like, governors control the treasury of the states, the president can appoint anybody; he can spend any amount he wants, irrespective of even the budget. And the National Assembly cannot seem to do anything about it, because they are also part of the cabal.
That speaks of the challenge of institutions over individuals, that the laws are there, and seems to be very detailed and clear about some of the approaches to some of these things. So, if the laws are there, and the institutions are there, and the individuals are as strong as they are over the institutions doesn’t that in a way, talk about what is missing?
There are areas of Nigerian discourse that are not controversial. However, institutions are not allowed to work. I think it was Socrates who was asking when there is no law, there’s no sin. But in this place where there is no implementation of the law; we’ll have laws. But the laws are not followed. Because individuals override laws. The governors override the laws, the rich override the laws, the powerful, even the violent hoodlum overrides the law.
Does that make the system helpless?
Well, right now, what we’re looking for is strategic leadership, somebody that will see the totality of these problems and create policies and programmes that will resolve them. We have not had that.
First, is there a term in political science for when the electorates begin to seek change at the end of the administration of any government as the case might be, you said it could be a change of government, a change of party or generally, when people seek a change?
Yes. It is. Parties do change their programmes in response to the demand of the electorate. If you want to win elections, you have to listen to the voice of the people that are going to vote for you. And that might affect the way you present yourself, might affect the programmes that you prioritize and so on. If it’s a different party, yes, they will almost invariably sell themselves or bring in new ideas, better ideas, and they will want to do a better job, because they know the next election; they will have something to explain. So, there’s no point at which the government cannot get to change. My worry is that sometimes it’s too late to change.
Would you be kind enough to do an analysis of the strengths of the major front runners, we know the PDP, we know the APC. Who might you consider major contenders in the coming election?
Actually, we have three leading candidates. The Labour Party is the third force. The two major candidates are APC and PDP, they have been there since 1999. They have the structures and so on. Let me say that the Labour Party, as exciting as it is, is unlikely to go very far in the presidential race. Because, we are not even talking about the Labour Party at senatorial, at the House of Assembly, they have no governor, no local government Council. Those are the elements of manipulation, of mobilization of administration of elections. So if you don’t have all those structures, you are not likely to go very far. I know people have been gloating about what happened in Kenya, it’s not easy for it to happen that way. You need to have the governors to be on your side, you need to have two or three who can bankroll your election, you have to have local government chairmen and so on. I think it’s a federal momentum that they have, it is there in the air. I’m not sure that it’s grounded in the grassroots.
Between Atiku and Tinubu, I see a problem. Ordinarily, those two should not be the people we want to rule us but they are the ones who emerged from the democratic process. And if we’re asking him to assess their prospects, Tinubu has an albatross. The albatross is that he cannot criticize the government. He cannot say, I’m going to change policies, he cannot say the policies I am going to pursue are going to be better, because it’s going to alienate the president, the Cabal, his party and jeopardize his electoral chances. So what is he going to sell to us?
Atiku’s campaign has no identity. Unfortunately, he has an identity that can galvanize us. It is the same, I will change electricity, I will privatize electricity, we have heard that before, what is it that you are going to do for us? So if you want me to balance it, I think Atiku has the best of the chances. Why? Because politics in Nigeria is not about ideology, I can see him mobilizing votes in the North. Blood is thicker than water. I can see him succeeding fairly in the South East, which is a PDP territory. I don’t see Tinubu doing that. If Atiku should take North over and above Tinubu, and take the South East and even struggle to take some of the South West, that will be it. And I don’t trust that some of the people who are now claiming to be his supporters in the North will not go back to your tent oh Israel. So that’s why the chances of Tinubu are slightly less than Atiku.
One of the papers had this particular headline, that Nigerians seek competence above party, religious, ethnic considerations. As a political scientist, what’s your first reading of that particular headline?
Well, that’s what we want. There is no dispute. That’s why Obi is attractive. That’s why I see him as a good motivational speaker, who had been able to mobilise to say, this is how government should be run and this is how I want to run it. But in the end, we’re dealing with a democracy, we’re dealing with theory and practice of democracy. In a democracy, you have to have structure to mobilise people to go and vote for you. On election day, you will need about five or six people, who be you agent, your observer etc, you have to pay for it. You will find that if you are the winning party, people are going to buy up your agents, and they will look the other way or walk away from the polling booth. Definitely I used the word, strategic leadership. That’s what we’re looking for. Somebody will propel us into into the second world, not first world, we can’t get there immediately. We thought we were going to get there because Okonjo-Iweala, told us that if we persisted in the policies of Obasanjo, we would have been in the Second World or one of the 10 leading economies in 10 years. Unfortunately, we didn’t continue with the policies. We took all the money from the reserve and so we are back to square one. We are even owing than what we were owing in 1999. So that kind of leadership, and so when people say that’s what Nigerians said they want, you will not want that. That’s what we want, but how do we get it?
Can we afford to underrate the candidature of the NNPP, Kwankwaso. Because if as they say, they will go the whole hog. They’re not aligning with everybody. Because in the last governorship elections, he held his own, his candidate actually did take that the election to a second ballot, who many considered an underdog at the time and the incumbent governor, they actually said he won, but eventually the second ballot, the governor won but it wasn’t easy. So with his candidate, it could be a different dynamic because he does hold sway in Kano?
The probability is higher that either of them will win. But when you talk about Obi and Kwankwaso, you are talking of people who are building new structures, as opposed to parties that have been there for 23 years. Kwankwaso can immobilize a lot in Kano and don’t forget that Shekarau, who is also a mobilizer from Kano, has moved away from him. So he has to share Kano with APC and PDP, Shekarau and Ganduje. So, if he wins 1/3, even let him win 50 percent in Kano, where is he going to win again? I mean the governors are waiting for you as a candidate, they are the ones who manipulate the system. The chairmen of local governments are picking their allocation for the month or two.
But the interesting thing about that is when they say the governors control the party’s structure and things like that. But how do we throw in the biometric voting system of INEC into this equation, they all have one vote. So if that system as INEC has said it, is as straightforward as many say it is, there’s a limit to manipulation from these guys?
Unfortunately, INEC maybe able to do a lot of theoretical things but you see, with practical things, I’m talking from some experience having participated in several elections. I am praying that Nigeria will change to the point that we would be able to say that this man we declared as the winner is…you see, the sources of election rigging are not at INEC desk. This is before it gets to INEC. What do you do about biometrics when you have underage children in their millions voting? When you have people you do not see for religious reasons voting, and don’t know how many of them. What is biometrics? Biometrics will work up to a point but those who are determined to frustrate the system have avenues for doing it. So, even when you transmit electronically, what are you transmitting? It is like the elementary computer language of garbage in garbage out. It is what you put in there.
Has it been substantiated that there’s underage voting and is it a choice to continue to allow this?
Well, let’s agree is not substantiated but the picture we see, a picture says 1000 words. We have seen it before. We have some people seen people thumb printing, we have seen all kinds of things. In some areas, riggers are protected by the system. How many policemen do you have? In any case, you make your budget to include the police and all those who will regulate; you will get away with anything. But I have a feeling that we will have a better election because part of this calmness and optimistic environment that has been created, is that we’ve seen the elections in Edo, Osun states. That is a good development that the party power did not rig those elections, and INEC did not cooperate to rig the elections. So, we’re hoping that that will be a national thing, not a local, partial commitment.
What’s your take on these various levels of internal party wrangling that we have seen play out here and there. On the front pages of the papers, is it mentioned that two or three political parties have internal wrangling that are quite significant and how is that likely to affect the entire process?
Any party that does not put its act together, that is the usual thing. You will see altercations immediately after primaries. Because everybody has come with ambitions; he wants to be governor. If you notice, people are shifting from one party to the other. Once they don’t get what they want, they will leave the PDP and become the governorship candidate in the Labour Party, or ADP or some other party. There’s always that tension because people struggle for these positions, because they have been thinking of only the rewards, they’re not going to serve.
So the winner takes that kind of thing?
Yes. They know the winner takes all and if they don’t win, people will not recognize their supporters. So they fight to the end.
When you say there is no tension, everything appears calm, some will suggest that it is because in the last elections, we had retired generals, who were angling, trying to get a particular position. So they didn’t have the culture or the tenets of democracy, per se. So that may have contributed largely, but now you have politicians. So they seem to be playing the game, could that count for anything?
It does. It is multi-sectoral thing. You know that there was also regional tension when Buhari was coming in. There were some suggestions of “Emi lo kan” syndrome that it was the turn of the North to produce power and Jonathan insisted on running. So that already created that tension that was bigger than just the campaign, it was a regional preparation for war. We have to have power, we’ve been out for too long. We have survived for too long, so we need it now. So and, of course, the second term of Buhari, also like you said a General does not want to lose an election. So that’s that determination and Atiku, a civilian General in his own right in election matters, was also there.
We don’t know what happened but the truth of the matter is that, we don’t have the same scenario now. We have sitting politicians that would pray that the Generals do not come back so that we can move to civilian politics.
We have a typology of this tension you speak about “it’s my turn” in different political parties today. Don’t we have it?
Yes we have but it does not rank to a national threat, it’s just with the party, within the region and so on. Go through the states, once the parties have their primaries, or the conventions, the winner settles down to reconcile with the other people.
You’ve spoken about strong individuals in the political parties, strong individuals in the political space, can you dig deep into the structures, institutions that are supposed to hold political parties, as opposed to the individuals. Many would reference the US Democrats and Republicans, and they will not be able to reference one individual, but they will reference the parties and their structures that hold it. Except of course recently, maybe Mr. Trump?
Well, you see, the interesting thing was that the leaders of the First Republic, were tutored democratically, by the people that handed over power to them. And they had a democratic mindset, and were willing to work with people to use the best brains. Do you know that Ahmedu Bello, for example, left with almost nothing. Balewa, created Victoria Island, he did not have a plot of land in Victoria Island. We now begun to monetize politics and that started with the military. There was so much freedom of stealing, no repercussions. We have in our Senate today, at least 12 people on trial, we are still sitting in the Senate. And so we have lost that structured value system that we inherited from our first leaders. Our leaders now are the ones who begin the process who are the catalyst of armed robbery in our governments. And once they do that, the institution is irrelevant. We will start with the governor, if he appoints Accountant General and you don’t release money, he removes you and puts someone else. He has that power to remove you. Our Constitution has given so much power to the Executive that there’s actually no control. Even the courts now said that the EFCC has no right to investigate state governors, that the states should go and establish their own economic crime institutions. If you establish a police, economic crimes institution in the state, given the power, the resources available to governors, what do you think they will do? Undermine the system in their own interest. So, we have returned to feudalism, we are just a pseudo democracy.
Some argue that EFCC keeps going after the governors, why can’t they go after a president, that presidents too are allocated money like states. So, why investigate only states, you don’t investigate the President?
I like to think that if we know what’s going on with Trump, that’s almost some kind of unwritten law that presidents are immune or else, our ex-presidents should have tested EFCC if not jail.
Now that we’ve seen the PDP, the APC’s internal wrangling among them. Twenty three days to the beginning of campaigns, are these going to play any role whatsoever in how they fair ultimately?
If those conflicts are not resolved, for example if you take the PDP, I’m just alarmed at the fact that they’re quarreling about the chairmanship. Let me tell you something, the PDP has six positions that it shares among the zones. The President, Vice President, President of Senate, House of Representatives, Speaker, National Chairman and the Secretary of Government; that is when they win elections. I don’t know why they will now want Ayu to leave when you have no President. There is no provision for you to leave for a presidential candidate, what if Atiku loses the election?
They say they are building on what he said himself?
Yeah. I think it was his level of arrogance. It was an error on his part. He did not recognize his own advantages. It is a moral commitment, it is not a legal, constitutional obligation. He has no obligation to leave.
So should he then admit that he made an error?
That is if Atiku wins, he would have taken the share of one zone.
But there are those who also want to list a number of positions in the party, the chairman of the BOT, the national chairman and other positions as coming from one region, and pretty much ostracizing the others. That is why some are saying it is the right of the South to be in the position of the chairman?
That is if the president comes from the North, not presidential candidate.
But he didn’t give that condition?
That is because they are not making the appropriate distinction. We don’t have a president yet. The six positions in the PDP are for elective positions, public offices. We don’t have it. So if Atiku wins the election and he is from the north, then Ayu will not have any leg to stand on. But Atiku is just a candidate. And so those who are asking Ayu to leave are wicked. They are standing on straws.
So what then is the argument for those against him because they’re holding very strongly to their position?
Unfortunately, they are holding onto the wrong thing. Hitler held strongly to Nazism and superiority of alien races, where did it leave him? You can have a trillion people supporting the wrong thing. It doesn’t make it right.
But it seems quite significant that the other side is insisting that this happens, or else they are going to work against him?
That is the problem. The question you asked that what effect will it have? They can quickly correct themselves and see the falsehood of their position and reconcile. Wike is insisting on that. Why?
What about the APC themselves?
The APC does not have the same kind of problem. They don’t. They have the problem of the same faith Vice President, and they have simply moved on from that.
We will say it appears that they’ve moved on because you still have people who feel look, in my constituency, there are 60, 70, 80 percent Christians. So how am I going to go in and market this because already they feel alienated from the emergence of the flag bearers?
You must operate on the basis of balances, if you are going to deal with 100 people, you will never expect 100 people to be on your side. That’s why elections are won on the basis of point one percent. That constitutes majority. So if you have people who are against you, you are just going to pray. And that has been calculated and the choice, we’re going to look at the balance. Where do I get my votes from? How many votes would I lose if I take a Muslim? And would I lose so much vote? I am sure that the votes that APC will lose in the Southwest will be next to nothing on the basis of religion because that’s not something that we take to heart. And you’ll find that in many places and he’ll have advantage in the North West as a result of that choice. And maybe in the North East. So, you cannot have everybody on the side at any given time. What you want on your side is that you have a majority.
Is it pedestrian to say that whichever way this election goes, the North wins, because you have a vice presidential candidate of APC from the North; you have a presidential candidate from PDP, you have a vice presidential candidate from Labour Party, you have the presidential candidate of NNPP from the North?
Have you forgotten that there was a presidential candidate, vice presidential candidate, all from the South? Was Jonathan not a presidential candidate, was Osinbajo not Vice President from the South? What has that got to do with anything? Let’s forget this North South issue. In terms of the sharing of public offices, we always end up like that. Don’t forget, the North has not won the presidency yet.
We keep saying let’s forget about these things but if you look at all those things, it’s right there in our faces, but have we taken certain steps to make sure we forget about these things?
We are hoping that whoever becomes president will not be regionally focused, he will not be thinking in terms of North/South. Even under the military, Babangida and the rest of them, there was balancing, and positions were shared. We have an aberration now that will be corrected by any new regime.
How confident are you on that?
You think if Tinubu becomes President he will put all Yoruba people in position? He won’t do that.
There are those who argue about the relevance of the South East in all of these?
That was why I was worried about, Wike’s insistence. He has been fighting in the party and disrupting the peace of PDP because he wanted a Southern Presidential candidate.
That is the umbrella. Having supported the installation of a northern chairman, will it be that because of his mighty resources, he will now throw the president to his side. But you see, if he wants to be fair, in terms of equity, Wike should be fighting for the South West, the last president from the PDP was from the South-south. So I don’t see…
But Atiku at that time had said if we zone it to the South East, he will step down?
Forget about what they say. When they say one thing today, they do something else. They are not playing by the rules, by law, Constitution; that is the only way you can catch a politician. After all, didn’t they promise that they will do this, do that, where are we today? Are you better off in 2019. Are you better off than 2015? But what did they tell us that they were going to do to give us a better country?
So what should determine how we vote in 2023?
When I’m quiet, honestly, I hope that we can all vote for the young man, Obi. I wish we can all vote for him so that we’ll get strategic leadership but we will not do that; we will not vote for him. The older people are not likely to add to the majority.
The older people?
Because the people of the rural areas don’t know all these things.
But the figures from INEC are between 18 and 24?
Yeah. In terms of those who actually go out to vote, those who have patience to go out to vote. Not those who registered. I didn’t vote in the last two elections, I have my card. So, we will like people to vote and see if we can get new leadership that is thinking of a modern Nigeria, not the old ones who have been coming, who have been there for 40, 50 years. Some of them cannot even manage a laptop.
That is why we try to push the young people to get the candidate they want because the future is theirs and they have the right to be the ones to elect. But we are in a democracy, so it’s not something that will be given to them. It’s something that they have to work for.
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