Comrade Debo Adeniran is the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), in this interview, the amiable human rights activist opens up extensively on various issues including the recent primary elections of political parties across States. He also disclosed his views on the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as 2019 presidential candidates of APC and PDP respectively.
What is your assessment of the recent concluded primary elections in various political parties across States?
Political parties are expected to conduct primaries before general elections, but concerning the last primaries we need to ask questions on the level of transparency of the primaries. The party primaries as conducted by political parties showed that Nigerians do not seem ready for party politics. We are still at the level of prebendalism. Most of the candidates are determined by few because of their influence and position as founders or financiers. Choice of candidates are not based on performance, pedigree, morality, but on connections or candidates’ relationship with powerful elements in the parties who want them to do their biddings if they win. Only few of the primaries are free and fair, especially in smaller parties that are unsung.
In bigger parties, like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), the choice of candidates are based on choice of leaders. They want candidates they can manipulate and not those who can implement the parties’ agenda. Even those in the new parties did not prepare for the offices they are vying for as they saw it as a means of advertising themselves.
Because parties do not have ideologies, people who embrace them want to latch on the publicity to show that they have contested. Lack of ideologies lead to the emergence of migrant politicians. That is what we have now.
Can you compare and contrast primaries of APC and PDP?
I cannot say any of them is more democratic than the other. For whatever reasons, the APC do not have candidates that contested with the incumbents. I believe most of the people could not come out to contest with the incumbents, which I see was because of the overriding influence of the President. But, because of the fact that they participated in the affirmation, gave the incumbents the sense belonging.
If you have direct primary, it gives you an edge. The direct primary of APC made it look more democratic than that of the PDP. Some smaller parties did affirmation. But, some are influenced by people who see themselves as owners of the parties.
In the PDP, the process that threw up the delegates was not transparent. Delegates were those who had opportunities or positions in the party. Others were relegated to the background. No one can confirm the positions they had. The delegate system is less transparent.
How would you explain the crises that have trailed the APC primaries across the country?
Ideally, when you have a ruling political party holding internal elections, the contest is fiercer than when you are in the opposition. When you have been nominated, it is as good as you have won. APC allowed a semblance of a true federal system. Each state was allowed to choose whether they wanted direct or indirect primary. But, the process was not spelt out. Some will be aggrieved because they were not appointed delegates as they were not party officials. If the electoral process is subject to manipulation, this may lead to crisis. There should have been rig-proof way of counting the ballot. There should be a machine that should count the voters. The voters could have thumb printed a paper or machine. APC does have a candidate in Zamfara because they could not agree on which primary to uphold, which is an indication of the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The party’s National Working Committee (NWC) did not accept the primary conducted by the governor. INEC did not manipulate the process to favour the ruling party. This also shows a good development in Nigeria’s political.
In your view what is the selling point of President Buhari against 2019 elections?
As far as we are concerned, it is like a one-eyed man in the city of the blind. Those contesting the position with him are weak in morality, experience, expediency. Some of them are financially weak. A presidential candidate needs to go round the nation. This is not easy.
President Buhari is popular and has structures in all the 774 local governments in the country. He has transverse all the local governments. He is a household name. He has been able to put a check on insecurity and insurgency. He has set up legal instruments to put corruption on check like the TSA. He will also tell the electorate that he has tried to diversify from petro economy, although the Fulani herdsmen have reduced the impact of his achievements in this regard. He has checked corruption. He has come up with laws against money laundering, illegal funds flow, control on movement of cash outside the country.
In the area of corruption, a number of exposed people have been prosecuted and jailed. Several places the previous government could not thread upon, Buhari trampled upon them, like the Military and the Judiciary. Many of the military and judicial officers were investigated and even tried, including Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs). Some officers were jailed. These were not happening before. Hardly do you see anyone covered. Look at the Babachir Lawal’s case for instance. However, we have few cases, like the Obla and Kemi Adeosun cases. But, Adeosun was forced to resign.
When you look at the external level, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), and the United Nations (UN), Buhari has been commended for checking corruption. Many foreign leaders who would visit Africa without turning their eyes towards Nigeria have changed their attitude and are now coming to Nigeria and extending invitations to Buhari.
In case of former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate, what do you think he would use to impress Nigerians to vote for him?
When you look at Atiku, like Buhari, he is 72 as Buhari was when he became President. Buhari is 74 now. Atiku is starting where Buhari started. Buhari will be 76 if he wins this election for his second term election, just as Atiku will be if he wins in 2019 and goes second term four years after. Like Buhari, Atiku is a Northerner and a Hausa Fulani. He was successful when he left the public service as a Customs Officer. Don’t ask me how he was able to grow his businesses, including having a university. He was a former Vice President.
During his tenure as a Vice President, there was a war of attrition between him and President Obasanjo over the PTDF (Petroleum Technology Development Fund). He has had a successful business career. He commands a lot of influence as a pan-Nigeria politician with wives from different parts of the country. He can tell Nigerians that he is a successful businessman and can run Nigeria successfully.
Also, he has a couple of scandals, especially about SEC and the banks. His name was mentioned during the failed banks period. These may give the incumbent president upper hand over him. But, people vote based on sentiments, rather than morality.
Do you think any other candidate stand a chance of emerging President outside President Buhari and Atiku Abubakar?
When you talk of the younger folks, I commend Omoyele Sowore of Sahara Reporters. He has been able to establish himself almost in all the local governments. He has a clear-cut agenda which people believe he can implement, depending on availability of resources. He is more of a welfarist. He is not likely to be corrupt. He works with a ring of young people who want to better the lives of Nigerians. I believe he is a candidate to look forward to. With financial support and moral suasion, I believe he can be given an opportunity.
Sowore is not like Atiku who has been making a sing-song about restructuring, who when he was the vice president under Obasanjo, he did not say a word about it. Buhari, Sowore and Fela Durotoye do not seem to have moral questions.
However, I see Oby Ezekwesili’s last minute entry as suspect. She is giving people the impression that everything he was doing through #BringBackOurGirls was political. People will be wondering if her fight for the release of the Chibok Girls was for political reasons. Nigerians would also be thinking that his attacks on President Buhari were not sincere. If she had declared her interest in the Presidency from the onset, people would have been able to know which of her utterances and actions were sincere and which were political.
Obama and Macron prepared well before they contested. Obama studied well, while Macron learnt at the foot of the masters, unlike Trump who used his notoriety to win election. Trump could not win through popular vote.
There are a number of candidates who know they cannot go anywhere. They want INEC to waste scarce resources to prepare them for election. In the recent Osun governorship election, there were very long ballot papers which confused the voters, which made them to make a lot of mistakes and a lot of votes were voided. Some of the parties did not even do primaries. That is not good for our democracy.
People see Lagos politics as being dominated by one man, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Why is it so?
It is not Asiwaju’s fault that his name comes up every time. It is the fault of others who could not carve out a niche for themselves. People are used to subservient politics. People look at their leader and not the pedigree of the aspirants. They do not question the actions of leaders. This is not good for Nigeria politics. When an aspirant performs, that should be a determining factor.
Do you think Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos got a fair treatment by not given an automatic return ticket by the APC leaders in Lagos?
It is not a fair treatment. What we criticised about infrastructures during the past administration of Babatunde Fashola, Ambode did it. He salvaged access roads, tarred and linked them up. If he had been allowed to continue in the next four years, the question of traffic congestion would have been a thing of the past. The in-coming governor would now benefit from Ambode’s efforts. This is unfair.
Ambode thought that if he provided good governance, everyone would have benefitted. People cannot provide their own roads, hospitals and schools. Look at the aesthetics of Lagos. These are what Ambode has been providing. Look at the aesthetics along Airport Road and the modern park at Oshodi.
No one said he did not perform. People complain that he did not give them patronage, cash, jobs. The effect is that no governor will want to perform well any more, but to patronise the leaders.
Lagosians must look before they leap. If Lagosians are discerning, they should look for an alternative party that will give them sense of belonging. Ambode performed well. Even Tinubu’s statements did not indict Ambode. But, he said that certain leaders complained that Ambode is not a good party man. This is not a good way of running a party or government. It should be based on ideologies. A party should fund itself from the members. A governor should not use state money to fund the greed of party leaders.
Talking about infrastructure, what is your take on the Lagos Masterplan? After about 20 years, don’t you think it deserves to be reviewed?
That is what we think. It should have been reviewed by now. The way to deviate from it is for Ambode to have provide infrastructure for forgotten areas like Agege, Aboru and several other neglected areas. Alimosho provides a lot of votes for the party. We cannot say that what Ambode did in Alimosho was a deviation. Even Tinubu said he would transform Lagos to a global city. That is what Ambode did. It is devilish for people to say that Ambode deviated if he is tarring roads. He has transformed road system, providing modern bus stops.
It is true that the light rail system abandoned by his predecessor, Fashola, is still unattended to, development is still going on. We believe that if the Masterplan has not been deviated from when we had governors who spent two terms of eight years each (Tinubu and Fashola), we are happy that Ambode was able to deviate a bit to give Lagos a better look.