*Explains why opposition can not thrive in Nigeria
*’The challenges of mega party’
Lai Mohammed, the Publicity Secretary of Action Congress, AC, has come to present himself as the major voice of the opposition in Nigeria.Â With the ease of drinking water or eating â€“ that is if youâ€™re not in the condition of Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua â€“ Mohammed churns out press releases.
Sunday Vanguard decided to interrogate the man who can be described as Mr. Action Congress for a specific reason. That but for his press statements on contemporary international, national and local issues, ACâ€™s popularity as a political party would have suffered huge discounts. The interview ended abruptly but you would still find in Mohammed a man who knows what the issues are. He disagreed that the resolution empowering Acting President Jonathan was constitutional.Â But he also draws the attention of Nigerians to the fact that Jonathan only spoke to Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua on November 24, 2009, the day after the latterâ€™s sudden departure from Nigeria to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Hear Lai Mohammed: â€œWe wondered why, if an ailing President could go through about 400 pages of a budget and sign it, why couldnâ€™t he just sign a simple statement as requested by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.Â Which is why up till today, nobody is sure whether that budget was signed by President Yarâ€™Adua or whether it is a forgery. â€œThen delegations started going to Saudi Arabia claiming theyâ€™ve seen the President and that he was doing well. â€œWhereas since the time the President left Nigeria on November 23, 2009, he spoke to the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan only once and that was on November 24, 2009. Since then, the aides to President Yarâ€™Adua would be the ones who would place a call to Jonathan and tell him that Yarâ€™Adua has instructed that certain actions should be taken. â€œEven the last time when Jonathan told Nigerians that he had just spoken to Yarâ€™Adua on phone and that he was doing fine, it turned out to be a hoax, it was a lie. In fact, the next day, the former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, said he too, had spoken to Yarâ€™Adua from Lebanon.â€
By JideÂ Ajani , Deputy Editor,
When you look at what has been happening since November 23 last year, how would you appraise the events?
What has been happening since the November 23 last year has been a culmination of the culture of impunity that has enveloped the polity! You see, over the last 10 years, weâ€™ve not grown our democracy the way it ought to be grown. Weâ€™ve only been democratic in name.Â Over the last ten years, weâ€™ve had a democracy that had suffered many aberrations and that was why many people did not see anything strange in the way and manner the President jetted out of the country on November 23, last year.Â Except for our party, which wished the President quick recovery but still noted that things should be done properly, people did not see anything really wrong in the action of President Yarâ€™Adua at that time. Then there was this contrived crisis between the Senate and the House of Representatives over which chambers would sit the legislators only for us to learn later that the budget presentation could not hold because of Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s health challenges.
Then suddenly we learnt that the President has jetted out of the country.
Soon after that, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, started attacking anybody â€“ either as a politician or a statesman â€“ showed interest in and made comments about the way the President left the country.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice was to tell Nigerians that Yarâ€™Adua could rule from anywhere; followed by the Deputy Senate President who told the nation that the President could stay for as long as he liked in Saudi Arabia.
FEC members also added their voice by telling Nigerians that government had never been any smoother, that things were working well; and there was this bazaar of contracts every Wednesday at FEC meetings.Â But when days rolled into weeks, weeks into months, Nigerians began to express concern and worry.Â Still, some people were deceiving Nigerians and were not telling the nation the truth â€“ they were just churning out lies about the Presidentâ€™s health.
The budget was reportedly signed by the President in Saudi Arabia?
In fact, that is the point. We wondered why, if an ailing President could go through about 400 pages of a budget and sign it, why couldnâ€™t he just sign a simple statement as requested by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.Â Which is why up till today, nobody is sure whether that budget was signed by President Yarâ€™Adua or whether it is a forgery.
Then delegations started going to Saudi Arabia claiming theyâ€™ve seen the President and that he was doing well. Whereas since the time the President left Nigeria on November 23, 2009, he spoke to the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan only once and that was on November 24, 2009. Since then, the aides to President Yarâ€™Adua would be the ones who would place a call to Jonathan and tell him that Yarâ€™Adua has instructed that certain actions should be taken.
Even the last time when Jonathan told Nigerians that he had just spoken to Yarâ€™Adua on phone and that he was doing fine, it turned out to be a hoax, it was a lie. In fact, the next day, the former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, said he too, had spoken to Yarâ€™Adua from Lebanon.
But the man was said to have been doing well.Â At least, we heard a voice on BBC?
Even the BBC broadcast, the original of which I did not listen to, became necessary because there was a sudden momentum again whereby the Senate and the House of Representatives were attempting to invoke Section 143, then the state governors and the legislature came together to pass a resolution that Jonathan should become Acting President. To us, that is illegal and unconstitutional till date.
Which part of that resolution is unconstitutional?
Section 145 is very clear and it is the only part of the Constitution which spells out the procedures whereby a Vice President can become an Acting President. There must be a declaration by the President which must be transmitted in writing to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, informing tem that heâ€™s going to be away, either on vacation or for medical treatment or any other such reasons that may not make him attend to the functions of state and, therefore, he is transmitting his powers to his Vice President.
There is no provision in our constitution at all, which says either one or two or 1000 resolutions of the National Assembly can make the Vice President an Acting President, none at all â€“ so what has happened is completely illegal
When people like you talk,it makes good sense. But the processes leading to that resolution made it clear that they were relying on his BBC interview as a â€¦.?
(Cuts in) Was it in print form?Â That interview they said they were relying on, was it in print form?
According to them, the internet version which can be downloaded via print was what they took?
Was it addressed to the Senate President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives?
My brother, thatâ€™s a clear case of working from the answer to the question.Â Donâ€™t forget that a week or 10 days to that same action taken by the National Assembly regarding this so called resolution empowering Jonathan to become Acting President, the same National Assembly, specifically the Senate, told Nigerians through a resolution, given the same President two weeks within which to transmit a letter.Â So, what happened between the ultimatum given and the about turn by the National Assembly?
The Constitution is very clear on the matter. Even if I write that letter to the Vice President or the Chief Justice of the Federation, it still does not meet that requirement. What happened was unconstitutional: The result was desired; the product was welcome; but the process was unconstitutional.
Like every Nigerian, we in the Action Congress, AC, heaved a sigh of relief but we warned that unless the process was perfected, one day, they will smuggle in the President and he will just start work a President and Commander-in-Chief and Jonathan will revert back to being the Vice President; but for the fact that he is not healthy enough, he would have simply gone back to his chair and resume as President and he would be very right because the Constitution says he has to transmit a written declaration to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and he would claim that he never wrote any letter in the first place, neither did he ask anybody to assume that his broadcast is a transmission and he would be right.
When he came back, the Senior Special Assistant on Media Matters, Olusegun Adeniyi issued a statementâ€¦.?
(Cuts in again)Â He issued statements and Iâ€™ll tell you what I mean:
The first statement he issued was to tell us that the President came back and that he thanks all Nigerians and the Vice President for the competent manner he handled the ship of state and while he isÂ recuperating, the Vice President shall continue to oversee the affairs of state.
Now, it was the outcry from patriots, civil society groups and other well meaning Nigerians that now made them write the second statement referring to Jonathan as the Acting President
So, who was giving that order?
Good question: Who was giving that order? Who gave the first order?Â Adeniyi is an intelligent young man who must have found himself in a very strange situation.Â While Yarâ€™Adua was away, Aondoakaa became the spokesman. Look at what happened when the FEC meeting could not hold: We learnt that Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s ADC and CSO sauntered in, took their positions behind the Presidentâ€™s Chair and dared anybody to come and sit down there.Â Of course the meeting could not hold.Â The ministers met with Jonathan in his office and the minister of information, Akunyili was bold enough to say that the meeting did not hold and that Jonathan has been asked to come and see the First Lady later in the evening. Till today, the Acting President has not seen Yarâ€™Adua so the question to ask is: Who were those passing instructions to Adeniyi
As a Nigerian, what image does this nonsense conjure?Â Although there is also this saying that people deserve the type of leadership they get?
It is not always and I know that Nigerians do not deserve this type of leadership.Â Nigerians did not vote for this kind of leadership.
You know there is a situation where a man finds himself and he steals the moment to do good! Look at Chris Ngige of Anambra State!Â The courts said he did not win the election which brought him to power but he was able to, within the period he served as governor to perform and the people were happy.Â That was why he could come back to re-contest the election in Anambra State and still do well â€“ mind you, he did not belong to the ruling party.Â The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia operates a monarchy but the leaders still deliver and endeared themselves to the people.
As a Nigerian I feel quite ashamed about this culture of impunity which has brought us to where we are today.Â Just look at what happened between 2003 and 2007 when the PDP, under Olusegun Obasanjo chose which court judgment to obey and which ones to ignore and then the harrowing experience of the third term bid and on top of that, using the EFCC and the ICPC to disenfranchise and disqualify those whom he didnâ€™t want to seek elective offices.
Talking about the people and the leadership they deserve, even your party, AC, apart from the press statements you issue almost on a daily basis condemning this or that, Nigerians are asking, what has the opposition done to fight back?
The Constitution we practice today does not provide for a virile opposition.
For opposition to thrive, two things must be present:Â There must be a political culture over the years; two, there must be a very enlightened populace. The presidential system of government does not encourage opposition â€“ itâ€™s a winner takes all situation.Â In a presidential system of government, I could become a minister without facing the electorate whereas in the Parliamentary system, the party is more superior to the executive arm of government because that arm owes and derives its authority from the party.Â You must have had to face the electorate, become a member of parliament, having been voted for, before you can become a minister.Â Today in Nigeria, there are some ministers who have never sought elective office, there are even some who come straight from private practice into government or even come directly from abroad and they are put in government, that doesnâ€™t help democracy.
In a parliamentary system, the opposition has a role because the prime minister must answer question from the shadow government; this is not available in the presidential system.
Most of our politicians do not have a second address apart from government. That is why in a state where PDP is in charge, you find some members of the other parties decamping, the same thing goes for a state where AC is in charge, you find members of the other parties decamping to join AC and all these go back to the lack of political culture.Â Look at how long it took Labour in UK to get to power, or the Green Party in Germany.
Democracy is not just about building roads; the true spirit of democracy is in the ethos which makes the vote of every individual to count.Â That is the important thing and that is what makes democracy thick.Â Go to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabi and see development but the people are still yearning for that right to vote and elect their leaders? itâ€™s an innate right, the right to give and withdraw your mandate.
Still on the issue of political culture, is it not strange seeing a President who swore to uphold and defend the Constitution, receiving people who are crossing over from one party to the PDP?Â What does the PDP want decampees for?Â As of today, 27 state governors are PDP.Â You do not turn a democracy into a one-party state because if you do that it is no longer democratic.
Let me tell you why this issue of opposition is the way it is: Take a state like Lagos, which is still better than most.Â The radio station, the television station beam what the state government wants you to know â€“ and mind you there are alternatives in Lagos so Lagos State is by far better.Â Take Kwara State, my own state, everything you hear is between NTA or radio Kwara, people are brain-washed with the propaganda and if you come there and say I am Lai Mohammed and I think we should fight for our rights and a better state, some people will tell you to take it easy and let development come to their areas.
In Britain – still talking about political culture – when the business class, the elites saw that the conservatives were leading them to economic collapse they supported the opposition.Â Tell me today sir, how many states of the federation do you have people at that level sticking out their necks to support the opposition. There must be a connection between the people and the politicians â€“ itâ€™s not just the politicians alone, the people too, must join in this thing.Â The ambience for opposition to thrive is not there.
But why is it that even those who claim to want to foster change haveÂ Â almost always found it difficult to work together.Â Take the megaparty which has been on the drawing board forever, why has it not crystalised and elections are already around the corner and when its sponsors lose at the polls, they would say they were rigged out, meanwhile, there is no serious mobilization going on as of today?
See, votes must count and not those who count the votes who should determine who wins.Â If all the political parties in this country should unite today and face the PDP, with the present situation of things, the PDP would win.
Let everybody work towards a free and fair election. Why must I contest for the presidency? What if I just want one issue and that is what bothers me and for which I want to seek power in my area?Â I am even forced to believe that the PDP would not want the megaparty to work and, therefore tries to create distractions because we have wasted so much time on this matter, leaving the real issue, electoral reforms.
Even if we form the megaparty and there are no reforms, forget it.Â That is why one of the things we want in the megaparty is electoral reforms â€“ that is what we stand for in the megaparty. Iâ€™ve been in the thick of this for quite a while and I have come to the conclusion that it is not all parties that are no PDP that are in opposition.Â There are some political parties in this country that are more rabidly conservative than even the PDP.
It is not about the political parties but about Nigeria.Â We need electoral reforms, that is what we need to begin to get things right.
Has it not occurred to people yet that the most successful countries in the world are the ones with transparent electoral systems, it is not by coincidence!Â Letâ€™s work towards a credible electoral system.Â It is very convenient for people to say the opposition would never unite but people forget that the beauty of democracy is the multiplicity of views, and the people choose and decide.Â The PDP says it is the biggest party in Nigeria but what has the party achieved for Nigerians.
Having said all these, if we all join hands to enthrone that culture of integrity and delivery of democracy dividends, as is the case with AC and, hopefully, others too have learnt and are learning their lessons about the debauchery of the PDP, there is hope for a better country to be built and anchored on those ethos Iâ€™ve outlined and for which AC and its partners represent.Â Just imagine Lagos State and Edo State or the emerging Ondo State and imagine the whole of Nigeria developing in that manner. We will make our mega arrangement work for Nigerians.
I want you to be honest:Â When people even talk about opposition and the need for change, would you not agree with me that the change would only end up being one regime of impunity for another regime of impunity, probably at another worse level?
I agree with you and Iâ€™ll tell you why.Â Weâ€™ve had some elections since 1979 not between 1999 and today, we have had sustained elections but you would agree with me that our economy is not a productive one and that makes politicians very susceptible.Â Most of those in power, on what basis did they get there?Â It was not on the basis of their manifesto; or what they can deliver or what they had delivered in the past.Â Because the votes donâ€™t count, people just get to power and do whatever they like. If the votes count it is better and we are not saying the best candidate would win when votes count.Â We are saying that the most popular person voted for would win.Â You do not build or grow democracy on a staple of impunity, it would not work and it has never worked.Â A situation whereby state governor are not accountable to anyone, senators are not accountable, council bosses are not accountable.
Look at the coming elections in Britain, if at all Labour Party will lose, it might even be on account of allegations of bullying leveled against the Prime Minister.Â Can you imagine that happening in Nigeria?Â The truth is that our condition is such that no politician or leader can rise above his society
We are a growing democracy and some of the things people are seeing in Nigeria today, other more successful democracies have gone through theirs.Â However, the difference in the case of Nigeria is that whereas people made conscious efforts to correct the inherent contradictions and challenges, we in Nigeria do not appear prepared that we want to get out of our situation â€“ that is the most troubling thing. Letâ€™s look at Asian countries where impunity was the order of the day at some point in their history, people made a conscious effort to ensure that things changed.