Insists elected lawmakers should be allowed to choose their leaders
By Dirisu Yakubu
Tunde Adeniran is a former Minister of Education and a one-time Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of
Germany. A Professor of Political Science, Adeniran is one of the most consistent voices in the nation’s political narratives since the return to democratic governance in 1999. In this exclusive interview with Vanguard, the Acting National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP bares his mind on a wide range of national issues ranging from the recently concluded general elections to the Walter Onnoghen’s controversy, amongst others. Excerpts!
Vanguard: What is your general assessment of the 2019 elections? Were they an improvement over those of 2015?
Adeniran: Every Nigerian patriot should feel a big sense of relief that the 2019 general elections have come and gone, although not without the usual post-election litigations that have sadly become an integral part of our elections and the defining character of Nigeria’s democracy. In general terms, one could risk rating the polls as not bad but, certainly, could have been better than what we experienced.
An assessment of the 2019 elections can only be considered objective if they are holistically viewed and interrogated from the essential perspectives of local, national and international analysis of the whole national event. Taking it from the local perspective, one has to look at the whole gamut of the elections from the angle of sub-national considerations. The fact is, majority of the country’s voters are found at the ward level, in communities among the rural folks, the artisans, market women, young boys and girls, and so on. It is well-known that the Nigeria’s elite class do not come out to vote.
There is therefore, the need for us to take to reckoning, the experiences of these categories of Nigerians about the elections – the mass of the people, because they were the ones who, as usual, turned out in their numbers to endure the stress of voting on the long queues during the last elections.
We need to also ask some pertinent questions: whether the voters considered the voting process less-stressful than the previous elections; what was the rating of the security component of the elections? Did the presence of those security agents at the polling units engender confidence and a sense of safety for the voters or they felt intimidated by them? Did the large number of police and military personnel that were deployed for the elections provide the needed safety to election materials and appropriate protection to the voters or they subjected them to untold fear and trepidation? Did we see on the faces of voters, the essential enthusiasm and feeling that their votes would count?
Moving into the future, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC must ensure there is no eleventh hour postponement of elections, while sufficient enlightenment campaigns should be undertaken on time to avoid disenfranchisement, vote cancellations and inconclusive elections.
Justice Walter Onnoghen recently tendered his resignation as the nation’s chief law officer. Do you see his resignation as a kind of relief given the controversy his suspension elicited?
The suspension of the Chief Justice of the Federation, His Lordship, Justice Walter Onnoghen by the President on account of infractions on the laws bordering on code of conduct, is one issue that has been vigorously discussed and argued in the public domain with very many experts in the matter of law, as well as several public analysts making objective and subjective submissions on the issue.
The controversy which the issue has generated, no doubt, has probably brought our judiciary to its lowest point in the annals of its history because that was the first time we would have the Chief Justice of the Federation being suspended, docked and replaced by fiat. It has really been bad for us as a nation and should be deeply troubling for all of us that the very unfortunate matter has put our judiciary on trial.
Beyond the propriety or otherwise, of the decision to suspend and appoint another in his place, the ethnic and sectional slant as well as the political colourations that have characterized the commentary about the issue are the most worrisome because of the inherent danger in all of that.
I believe there is no sincere person that can argue that the embattled CJN has not served this nation well, for his record attests to that fact. But now that he has been compelled to retire, it is my considered opinion that he should be allowed to take the rest that he deserves.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and APC national leader, Bola Tinubu believe power would return to the South in 2023. But barely two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, there are already insinuations that that agreement may not hold waters. Are you not worried? Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal for instance was quoted as saying recently that it is not compulsory for the North to cede power to the South in 2023. What do you make of that statement?
I am not worried. We are in a democracy and God Almighty is in charge of all affairs of his creation. Whatever God say will be will be, using the majority of the electorate to decide. It is surprising that while the President is yet to take oath for his new term, we are already having people coming up with all kinds of permutations about his likely successor and the zone that by their consideration, he or she should come from. I consider all such conversations that are already building around the far away 2023 as unpatriotic and distracting from true national interest.
While one concedes to the former SGF that it is his right to freely express his opinion, and that it is within the ambit of the law for him or anyone to canvass arguments and positions that will further what they consider their strategic interests; it is important that anyone who has had the privilege of occupying such exalted position which he had occupied in the country, should be well guided and elevated in their utterances. We should not be seen to be overheating the polity.
We all need to be mindful that this country belongs to all Nigerians and its leadership is not a birth right of any group or ethnic nationality. No one political zone should erroneously consider itself as superior to the others and as a matter of fact, none has the power or authority to say it will cede power or otherwise. Every Nigerian is equal and free to exercise constitutional rights.
I will like to suggest to everyone who truly loves the President; genuine patriots who desire to see that good happens to the country under the continued watch of President Buhari to focus more on whatever creative way they can help him to deliver on his promises and agenda in order to justify the trust of the people which accounted for the new mandate. For me, at this point, anything sort of value-adding opinion or idea is a distraction which should be termed a deliberate open invitation to unnecessary political tension and acrimony.
Let’s talk about your party, the Social Democratic Party, SDP. What do you think affected your chances at the 2019 polls and how are you planning to revamp the structures you have across the country?
I am happy that in your question, you referred to the SDP as having structures across the country. That is very correct. The truth is that, the party is well entrenched in the political space across Nigeria. Going into the 2019 general elections, it was the political party that Nigerians considered as holding great prospects of making remarkable impact, but unfortunately, it got shackled and bogged down by self-inflicted litigation crises.
I think the SDP was about the only frontline national party that had its Presidential ticket disputed and dragged through the whole gamut of our courts. That unpleasant experience took its toll on the party and its candidates across board as you could see. The set-back brought by the litigation hindered and limited the chances of the party in making the kind of huge impact Nigerians had looked forward to in the elections because it prevented us from embarking on the scheduled nationwide presidential campaigns which would have boosted the chance of our candidates at all other levels.
Luckily for us, we have succeeded in putting that episode and painful experience behind us and are now fast repositioning for the future. The party is now seriously working at fixing the cracks that the elections engendered in our structures across the country.
In our collective resolve to move into the future very strongly, the national leadership of the party has instituted a high-powered reconciliation committee to reconcile the party and it has already swung into action. I assure all Nigerians who have demonstrated so much interest and love for the SDP that our engagements with all strategic blocks, interests groups and all levels of our structures are in top gear to achieve the building of a united, strong and effective political party that will continue to effectively function and run on its core values, principles and ideology. Before long, we hope to achieve the building of a new super-structured SDP that will serve as a robust and veritable vehicle for the political aspirations of its numerous members across the country.
Gubernatorial elections are quite close in Bayelsa, Kogi, and a few other states. Will SDP field candidates in these states or go into alliance with a party that shares similar ideology?
The SDP is very much on ground in Kogi and Bayelsa, the two states where governorship elections are scheduled to hold in November this year. The question of going into alliance with another party in prosecuting the elections does not arise. SDP is a distinct party on account of its ideology, principles and vision for building a great country for all of us.
In Kogi, the party has always been strong and entrenched. You’ll recall that it sponsored a credible candidate for the House of Representatives bye-election in the state in 2018, and had an impressive showing despite the unimaginable intimidation by the state government. We also presented very strong candidates in the 2019 general elections. Some of the candidates that the party presented in the state were so strong that not a few Nigerians believe that they were robbed of victory, especially in the national assembly election.
The performance of one of our senatorial candidates, Barrister Natasha Akpoti very well caught the attention of very many Nigerians. Because of her unusual clout and the huge followership that she pulled going into the election, she was generally rated as a candidate that was capable of winning the election. Very many even believed that she actually won the senate election in Kogi Central but the result which was eventually declared came as a shock to all that followed and monitored the election in that particular part of the state. At any rate, the case is already being argued at the tribunal and going by the overwhelming evidences which we have tendered, we are very optimistic that justice will be rightly served and her mandate will be restored.
Back to the question of the November 2 governorship election in that state, I can confidently tell you that the SDP will sponsor a candidate who will not only run, but one that has the capacity to win the election and will thereafter work to turn around the ebbing fortunes of that great confluence state. Apparently, Kogi state needs a kind of rescuing and it is a serious party like the SDP with sound people-oriented programs that can unleash the latent potential of the state for greatness, and help to significantly lift the people of that potentially great state out of their current unpleasant social conditions and make life truly better for them.
As for the Bayelsa governorship, the SDP had a number of candidates who gave good accounts of themselves in the 2019 national and state assembly elections. We are therefore, already working towards presenting a credible governorship candidate who will fly our flag and give the ruling party in that state a run for its money.
President Buhari recently bemoaned the loss of huge revenue to the nation on medical tourism annually. Is this not hypocritical considering the fact that the President himself had on a few occasions sought medical help abroad?
To me, for the President to have realized and openly bemoaned the fact that the nation has lost and is still losing huge revenue on medical tourism is commendable. I think it is important for all our past and present leaders to really come to admit their collective guilt about the poor state of our health system and medical facilities in Nigeria. The huge revenue we keep losing to other foreign countries on medical tourism is just not acceptable. We cannot dream of developing as a nation with our kind of reckless approach to public governance and the wellbeing of the citizens.
That the President spent a number of weeks abroad to seek medical attention to his health challenge was nothing criminal. We must concede to him that, like any other Nigerian, he reserves the right to decide where he gets medical care. At that point in question, the country needed him to be alive first in order for him to be able to perform his duties. For me, how he chose to remain alive was more important than where he went to get medical care.
What I think we should really be concerned about is to find out what has been his administration’s achievements in the intervening years from the time he came back from his medical vacation and now, especially in the area of improved health infrastructure and, going forward, what his plans and agenda are to achieve the desired health care system in the country under his watch.
From what one can see around, I do believe that the president being legacy-conscious leader, has been able to bring about remarkable improvements in the health sector in the past four years, for us to begin to attract some of the large number Nigerian diaspora medical experts back to help lift up our health system.
The 9th National Assembly will be constituted in a few weeks’ time. How best can the nation avoid the wrangling that almost tore both chambers apart in the 2015 over who emerge leaders of both houses?
The parliament, in a constitutional democracy and as recognised by the Nigerian constitution, is an independent arm of government that is very strategic to the deepening of democracy and national development. Judging by its name, and the intendments of the constitution, our national assembly is expected to be truly national in its composition, outlook and structure, and it should therefore be allowed to remain so without undue interference from any quarter.
The point should however, be emphasized that the in-coming members of the 9th Assembly should see themselves as holders of the mandate and the sacred trust of Nigerians who elected them as the representatives of their collective interests. They are expected to work for the good of the country and should, therefore, carry themselves with the expected dignity of that exalted office and discharge their responsibilities with high sense of national duty.
In the foregoing regard, I can confidently tell you that the SDP member of the House of Representative-elect holds the promise of being a good ambassador of the party in the 9th National Assembly. He is well-primed to acquit himself very brilliantly and honourably. We are so sure he will distinguish himself to the admiration of all.
Parliaments all over the world are not theatres for jesters. It is a place of serious national duty that requires serious mindedness on the part of the occupiers of the office. As such, the hallowed chambers of our National Assembly should not be any different.
On the matter of the leadership of the 9th Assembly, I believe it will be wise on the part of the ruling party to tread with the needed caution. They should be mindful that all Senators and members of the House of Representatives are equal and they need to be treated with a measure of respect. They are not to be spoken down to unguardedly.
Whoever emerges as the next president of the Senate and the Speaker are to be considered as first among equals and nothing more! That is how it works in other serious climes. All those individuals who have indicated interest to vie for one leadership position or the other in the two chambers have committed no crime. It is within their fundamental rights to so do. The elections in June should not be by any party. It is going to be an election of the next Assembly leaders and will be by the Assembly members themselves. It is going to be interesting how things will play out. However, I implore all contenders to display patriotism and not get unduly desperate or self-serving in their engagements.
One would expect them to subsume their individual interests in true national interests in this matter as well as on all other issues at all times. By and large, I would like the National Assembly to assert its independence as much as possible by the in-coming elected members of the 9th Assembly ensure that they elect by themselves, their leaders who will in turn by that power, appoint other principal officers. That much is what is expected of them because the Nigerian parliament is by our constitution termed the national assembly. It is certainly not an arm or appendage of any political party whether ruling or opposition.
Why is it difficult for you and other leaders of your party to broker peace between Donald Duke and Prof. Jerry Gana? Can’t they just put aside their grievances in the interest of the party?
It is not correct to assert that it is difficult for the leaders of the party to broker peace between our feuding members. I need to let you know that shortly after the party conducted its Presidential primary in October 2018, the entire national leadership of the party, although very surprised, on learning that Professor Jerry Gana who came second in the primary and had warmly opened his arms wide and hugged the winner upon declaration of results right at the venue of the election was poised to taking the party to court, swung into action to reconcile him with the former governor, His Excellency Donald Duke, the winner of the Presidential primary.
In recognition of his status as a respected party leader that he is, the party made concerted efforts and strongly appealed to Professor Jerry Gana for him to let go of the matter in the true interest of the party and for him to become a father figure, where he could play some vital roles. We also value our personal relationship with him as a friend, colleague and talented person who had played major roles in the political process. He eventually proceeded to the court and, as they say, the rest is history.
Now that the issue in dispute that has been on in the last six months has been finally resolved by the verdict of the Supreme Court, and also that the Presidential election has also come and gone, we have swiftly set a post-election reconciliatory machinery in motion to help us bring everyone back for us to begin anew. With the good work that the committee members are known to be capable of doing and have promised to do, I am very optimistic that all aggrieved members of the party will come back to the fold and very many politicians of note will also choose to join us to reposition the party for the great future that lies ahead.
How will you rate the performance of INEC and the military in the just concluded elections?
The mandate of INEC as thrust upon it by our constitution and electoral laws is a huge one. Over the years, the responsibility and challenges of the Commission have increased as a result of changes in the social demography of the country, but not enough has been done to equip the operations of the Commission to meet those new realities.
At every electoral cycle, it has repeatedly contended with the challenges of logistics, personnel, capacity and other sundry issues. As such, I am of the opinion that we need to have some review of the legal frameworks that guide the operations of the Commission for it to be more effective in discharging the responsibility of its mandate.
We need to rejig our electoral laws with a view to freeing the commission of some of the burdens it has always carried. The reports that we got from different monitoring groups and organizations about the 2019 elections show that INEC tried its best but needs to do better in subsequent elections, especially in the area of logistics. The performance of the military in the 2019 general elections was acceptable in some parts of the country, especially in the troubled north-east zone where their presence was what essentially allowed the voters to be able to come out to vote. But in some other areas, their conduct was not good enough. As reports have shown, there are damning evidences of unwholesome meddlesomeness of the security agencies in the elections. In some places in the Niger Delta, what they reportedly did could only be termed a national embarrassment.
It was reported that some of the inconclusiveness that were recorded particularly in the South-South of the country were traceable to the overbearing roles that the military allegedly played in the elections. The only way for us not to have a reoccurrence of the controversies of the 2019 elections is for us to stop the militarization of our future elections. The verdict in the public domain is that it was the over-deployment of soldiers to polling areas that largely accounted for the gross voter apathy that was recorded in the elections in some parts of the country. That is certainly not good for the advancement of our democracy.
As a Professor of Political science, tell us your take on inconclusive elections and how best to avoid a repeat in subsequent polls
The concept of inconclusive election crept into our electoral lexicon only recently. It has never been part of our elections since the return of democracy in 1999. I think it started with the Bayelsa governorship election about four years ago. Every inconclusive election in this dispensation has always raised the suspicion of Nigerians because of its inherent trust issue. Each time any election is declared inconclusive, there is usually the tendency for voters to feel that the party in power is responsible and most likely to be the beneficiary of the eventual outcome of such declaration, especially if the election in question appears not to be going its way.
The implication of this is that it erodes the confidence which the voters have in the commission and also impacts negatively on the credibility of the election, especially if the re-run ends up going the way of a ruling party. Aside the cost implication of logistics and the loss of man hours, inconclusive elections have always generated unease and tension and, in most cases, resulted in collateral damages to the nation. I believe we need to look at our electoral laws and find a creative way to have a review of the relevant legal frameworks that guide our elections in order to minimize the incidences of inconclusiveness.
In this modern age, and at this advanced stage of our development as a nation, Nigeria cannot afford to be contending with the nationally embarrassing cases of inconclusive elections when smaller countries in Africa conduct elections and have results declared within 48 hours. We certainly have to get this ugly development expunged from our electoral lexicon if we want the world to take us seriously as a people and as true democrats. Inconclusive election by every standard is unpleasant, damaging and inimical to our democracy.