June 13, 2009

‘We are retrogressing from the standard practice of democracy’

CHIEF Femi Lanlehin is a chieftain of the Action Congress party, AC in Oyo State. In this interview with Sunday Vanguard, the legal luminary cum politician speaks on the significance of June 12 among other issues. Excerpts:

THERE have been arguments that June 12 and not May 29 should be regarded as democracy day. From your point of view, which of the dates should be celebrated as democracy day?
June 12 epitomizes the definition of democracy as the government of the people, by the people and for the people. June 12 represents the day when all the negative and unpatriotic tendencies of Nigeria were jettisoned, such as tribalism, religious bigotry, electoral fraud and violence were all jettisoned.

It was a day when it was good to be Nigerian were manifested, the nation stood on the threshold of greatness and democracy.Prosperity, peace and progress in the country can be created by recognising June 12 for what it is. June 12 gave us the vigour to create a truly democratic nation. May 29, 1999 on the other hand, was the day when the First Republic was born because the Third Republic was a culmination of electoral process that was faulted from the beginning and has since then progressively worked, May 29 cannot and should not be celebrated as it brought out the bad in us.

16 years after the struggle for democracy, would you say Nigeria is indeed practicing democracy or we are under civilian rule?
I would say absolutely no. Infact, we are retrogressing from the standard practice of democracy into party dictatorship. There is a concerted effort by the ruling party to manipulate the electoral system with all means at its disposal to turn Nigreia into a one party state, where the rule of law is jettisoned by the cabal who are bent on actualising their selfish and unprogressive interest to the detriment and utter neglect of our people.

I think all efftorts are been made to see that democracy as internationally defined, does not take root here in Nigeria.The ruling party is determined from all indications, that we have been able to see so far, to emnsure that the electoral system is not transparent, is not free and fair and obviously cannot support a true democracy. Since we have in place a rule of certain individuals, who are bent on turning the rules of democracy.

Plans are on-going to form a mega party that would outwit the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (your former party). Do you subscribe to this move and do you see this coalition working?

Well, it would have been a desirable and welcomed move if it is approached properly; if it is approached in a way whereby all stakeholders are made to participate in a way where all coalition of parties will work. But from the way it is going on, you will discover that the parties that are participating are not parties that are really on the ground, that is parties that are in control of one form of government.

And to be realistic, we a need a coalition of political parties who have the control of machinery of governance. But because of the absence of any of these parties that are in governance, it’s now a conglomeration of parties that are not in a form of governance at the three tiers, I do not think it might turn out to be anything tangible. I have my doubts. I’m aware that the party that I belong to (AC) is not participating, so, I’m not too optimistic about the success of the debut of the mega party.I believe that until and unless that parties that are on the ground consent to participate, not more can be achieved. The Action Congress has said for now, it’s not participating.

Still on June 12, considering the elections that have been conducted in the country from 1999 to 2007 and the litigation trailing the outcome of these polls, would you say the ideals and principles of June 12 still exists?

And again, how feasible do you see the proposed electoral reforms of President Yar’Adua because many have argued that he (Yar’Adua) is merely paying lip service to the reforms?Yes, I believe that the ideals and principles of June 12 strongly exists in the mind of our people. Our people know a good government when they see one, our people realise and recognise good leadership when they see one, they also know what is good for them and they can decide how to choose their leaders. Unfortunately, since 1999 when we had an election that was below average, we then progressed into 2003 when we had an election when nearly everybody in this countrywas curious.

When the present president took over in 2007, I believe he was genuinely and honestly committed to an electoral reform. He was committed to have a turn around in the electoral system which will produce a free and fair elections and thereby produce honest leaders.

Like always, everything about Nigeria, the man has had himself surrounded by the usual cabals and I believe now from the utterances and actions of the president, he’s not as sincere as he was when he wanted to reform the electoral process.If we are not careful, we may likely use the same electoral act and system in 2011 and that could be disastrous. People are completely disgusted and agitated that what happens in 2007 does not happen again.

I only hope that the time we get to 2011, we must have guaranteed a free and fair election.