*Declares: President has only one option
*â€˜Politicians are a big problem to Nigeria’
At a time like this it should not be a surprise that former head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar and immediate past Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu are back, together, courtesy of opposition politics.
And so, penultimate Thursday the Ladi Kwali Conference Hall of Abuja Sheraton and Towers, these politicians came together in body and spirit. It was the public presentation of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms, CODER, the latest opposition group in town. Their concern, as enunciated in this interview with Ayo Opadokun, CODERâ€™s Secretary, ever forceful in driving his point home, is to energise Nigerians to the realities of the inviolability of votes.
Buhari was represented by Alhaji Buba Galadima, while Atikuâ€™s running mate in the 2007 presidential elections, Chief Ben Obi, brought tidings from the former vice president. Opadokun point that wherever you find the trio of Buhari, Atiku and Tinubu, then something wonderful is about to happen.
As he fielded questions from Sunday Vanguard, he explainedÂ why these men saw it as a bounden responsibility to move against President Umar Yarâ€™Adua, saying it is, â€œis meant to save Nigerians from the gangster-populated Peoples Democratic Party, PDPâ€. Excerpts:
By Jide Ajani
HOW did CODER come into existence?
Well, it was as a result of a deep reflection on the state of the nation. The state of Nigeriaâ€™s social services has deteriorated beyond imagination across board. Our educational system has collapsed. Today, there is a strike going on in almost every level of our educational system. Our health services have even been further worsened by the fact that our elite are busy travelling to Europe and America or toward certain Asian countries to take care of their medication; so they do not care what happens to the medical services here in Nigeria.
When Abacha announced the coup of December 1993, he told Nigerians that our hospitals had become mere consulting clinics. Today, we are worse off in several respects by what it is. If you look at the status of the decaying infrastructures that you have, they are not in a position to serve our existence any longer. Obasanjo, when he came into office, NEPA was producing 1,600 mega watts; we are producing less than that. Itâ€™s a terrible disappointment. There is nothing to show for the value of money appropriated for the repair of our roads.
The Nigerian society has become so intolerable that it canâ€™t be compared to any around the globe.If Nigerians believe that any sitting government that cannot perform can be voted out of office, then, they will be able to have some hope. But the situation in the country today is that we are in a hopeless situation because those who govern us certainly believe that our votes no longer mean anything to them. Whether we vote for them or not, they will be in office. So peopleâ€™s votes donâ€™t count and that is why they are so irresponsible in governance.
Is that all?Â Weâ€™ve heard this litany before; thereâ€™s nothing new in what youâ€™ve said?
Thatâ€™s exactly why we took a long look at the entire scenario and we came to the conclusion that we are gradually grinding to a state of hopelessness. And when a community comes to a situation where majority of its citizenry, believe that they are in a state of hopelessness, a major crisis is very near.
Because someone who is hopeless can do anything and it is in that state of mind that some of us started thinking. When President Yarâ€™Adua came into office, after the 2007 elections, and he went ahead to set up the Uwais panel, we said letâ€™s give him a chance and letâ€™s see what he wants to do to redeem his image and his reputation. We waited until the Uwais panel finished its work and submitted its recommendation.
The moment we saw that they set up the first panel and second panel which was the government panel to work on the White Paper and from the inside sources and information, they tinkered with very minimal matter on that recommendation; yet, the hawks in this government were not satisfied because of the first one, and they went ahead to now do a hatchet job.
From our information, our fear was confirmed when the government sent its recommendations to the National Assembly, which turned out that the two or three main recommendations which we thought would change and modify the electoral system to be right – mainly that the executive should not appoint the electoral umpire; secondly that no one should assume office until the judicial matter has been concluded.
That the Federal Government excluded that honestly confirmed our fears.So, we decided to think among ourselves and we met with Bola Tinubu who has been thinking seriously about the probability of our doing something over this matter. We started meeting together and Tinubu facilitated our putting a team together; it was in the process that we knew among ourselves that it was important for us to organise a technical committee that would produce a position paper for us. Asiwaju Tinubu produced the resources with which we could do the job.
So, what is your position?
On the whole, our position is that if nobody does anything, it will be suicidal to confront the Nigerian people to go through another election in 2011 because it will be a pretentious and dubious exercise when people know the result of the election before it is even conducted.
Given the current situation whereby the executive appoints the electoral umpire, we know that that amounts to rigging from the source. If nothing is done to the electoral system, there will be no basis for any right thinking person saying he wants to go and run for any office. That is what led us to where we decided that we should collaborate with all other well meaning Nigerians, who believe that peopleâ€™s vote must count in Nigeria so that we can have credible election and in that wise, ensure that rightly headed people get into public office.That is what led to the creation of the Coalition of Democracy and Electoral Reforms, CODER.
But looking at the roll call, how would you defend the inclusion of some of those who were with you?Â Even some PDP leaders who were present are seen as people who appear to have lost out in the power configuration and have just suddenly found an opportunity to try and re-generate for relevance?
In every given political situation, because itâ€™s a dynamic situation, peopleâ€™s interests sometimes conflict with the community interest.
And when there is a clash of interests in this way, the first thing to note is that the community interest is to be preferred over the personal interest. Some elements of the PDP who were there, a number of them had to contend with a very vicious system that produced their party as an organisation. They had to contend with vicious faceless group in the PDP that would not want the right thing to be done.
Some of the elements who joined us in this presentation were part of the people who spoke out in some respect.I can talk about one or two of them who are highly valued people; who as genuine democrats were known to have done what they needed to do to correct the wickedness in the PDP. A situation where the founding fathers of a political party were all asked to go and rejoin the party and in the process, those who were eliminated, were eliminated because they were uncompromising.And in any case, what we practise together under CODER today, cuts across party lines. It does not matter what you are.
Whether you belong to Â Â Â any political party or not, our concern is that, you should be concerned with the fact that todayâ€™s votes of the Nigerian people donâ€™t count. Once you subscribe to that agenda, you are welcomed into it.Let me also remind you that there is no place on earth where a pack of angels is privileged to initiate any meaningful change in a society.
No one is asking a pack of angels to come and do anything â€“ that is impossible. What weâ€™re saying is that weâ€™ve seen this type of thing before (where are the MRDS, MRDDS, MNRS, ACDS and many more like that) and what would make this one different?
Once you have started, you will have a mixture of the bad and the good. In the process of consolidating your group, some of them will fall by the way side if they do not sincerely believe in the agenda, but those of them who sincerely believe in the agenda, will continue to trudge on and continue to do their best to themselves within the shadow of the objective of the organisation.
When we started NADECO, it was a platform for a variety of interest groups in this way: Non-Governmental Organisation, politicians, professional bodies, ethnic nationalities, student bodies, women and the likes. There were some elements that fell by the way side because they could no more bear the brunt of standing for what is right. But the rest of us, kept on and you know the rest of the story.I believe itâ€™s going to be the same thing over this one.
Let me ask this question: Is there anybody who can tell the Nigerian people that the CODER agenda is wrong, that peopleâ€™s votes must not count in this country?Â That is an agenda that is irreproachable, nobody can oppose that.And like I said in my presentation to the public, the only difference between democracy and any form of authoritarianism and dictatorship is the fact that, the people of such variety are given the privilege to freely elect those who will govern them for a period of time.
Whenever you remove that opportunity for them to freely vote, and their votes no longer count, then you donâ€™t have democracy any longer.My belief is that as we trudge on in politics, people can and do make mistakes, they can fall into one temptation or the other. Perhaps, it is the opportunity for a redeeming future for them and that they can redeem their past. I believe that we will welcome them and we will want to work with everybody who is in that one agenda. CODER has only one agenda, not party formation, making peopleâ€™s votes count at election.
At the risk of sounding pessimistic, when G18 became G34 and eventually, it became the PDP, the politicians had wonderful ideas and they actually fought against General Sani Abacha and his regime.Â Â But suddenly somewhere along the line, something snapped. Now, Nigerians have been pushed through this same kind of paradigm over and over. What are those things you want them to look out for this time around, that would be indicative of a paradigm shift?
May I remind you that I donâ€™t think that we should compare the take off of PDP with the take off of CODER. You are talking about a political party being put in place, CODER is not. CODER is across party lines. Anyone who welcomes this sole agenda of making peopleâ€™s votes count, is welcomed into CODER; those who want to go and form political parties are free to do that somewhere else.Honestly, if anybody brings up any agenda other than the struggle to guarantee the sanctity of the ballot box, that new agenda will not be tolerated in CODER. Our objective is only one. Now, there are a lot of misinformation to correct about the formation of G18, G36 and G34. At the appropriate time, we have to tell the world what really happened.
I think you should tell the world now?
For example, elements from the northern part of the country sat down because then, Abacha was playing the northern game. That was why people who were part of the old SDP and NRC, wanted the Nigerian people to know and the international community to be aware that they were not supporting General Abachaâ€™s gamble.Quite a number of them, one way or the other, had found themselves in prison custody and they were thinking about it.
And they decided that when next the opportunity of forming any political parties came their way, they should be able to form one broad political party that would become strong and resilient, that could send shivers down the spine of the military so that they would not be able to intervene again in the affairs of the country.So, when Abacha overran this country and he was presenting himself as if he was the saviour of the northern region, some of these well meaning Nigerians, Solomon Lar, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Lawal Kaita, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and so many of them like that wrote the first letter.
And I tell you what, before they completed the letter, Chief Solomon Lar and I, had a lengthy discussion and they wanted to take the letter to General Abacha; that was just about two weeks before the last Pope came to Nigeria. In our discussions and deliberations, I begged them that they should not release that document at that time; that the Popeâ€™s visit, would overrun and overshadow every other story at that time, which they eventually accepted.And we realised at that time that as soon as that once document was presented to General Abacha after the Popeâ€™s visit, we would do our own possible best to give maximum media attention and focus.
When you say â€˜our own possible bestâ€™, had the movement become a Nigerian movement by then or was it still a Northern arrangement?
I mean NADECO, Afenifere and some other Non-Governmental Organisations across the length and breadth of the country and this was accepted.So, after the Pope left, it was Chief Solomon Lar who delivered the letter to General Abacha and from inside information, General Abacha set up a committee to examine and review that letter and our position paper. The recommendations that were given to him were to the effect that these people were not just grandstanding and that what they had written was vital and very serious.
Perhaps the only thing you can do is to see whether you can divide them and get some of them to withdraw their participation in the letter.And then, General Abacha started and invited Solomon Lar again and kept him in what could more or less be termed â€˜detentionâ€™.
After about two or three days, Abacha wanted Lar to shift grounds and Lar told him â€˜we have written what we have written, itâ€™s a collective decision. We believe in what we have said. If you think that you want us to discuss this thing, letâ€™s call a meeting of all of us again so that we can discuss itâ€™. Lar left and Abacha invited Adamu Ciroma, incidentally Mallam Adamu Ciroma said the same thing too. All other people he invited, said the same thing.
Iâ€™m sorry I forgot the name of Professor Jerry Gana, Dr Iyorcha Ayu and others were involved. So, he invited some of them that way and they were making the same responses. That was the matter.Now, after that happened, it was clear the position of the SouthWest which was already known to the whole world. It remained the South East for reasons which I hope I still need to keep behind. It was not possible to raise that same type of high powered team from the east and so, appropriate measures had to be taken to bring up a national body with a six man representation coming from each of the geo-political zones and that was what became G-36. Dr Usman Bugaje and Dr AbdulAzeez had to drop out for one reason or the other, then it became G34. Thatâ€™s the circumstance of the G34.Â Those elements were interested in politics, itâ€™s unlike CODER. The coloration may not be appropriate.
In the event that Yarâ€™Adua decides to review the Justice Uwais committee report and represents another proposal to the National Assembly along the lines of CODER or along the particular line that seems to have a semblance of or is in tandem with the core objectives of CODER, what would be the next step?
Honestly, once the objectives of making votes count become the key element of the new electoral system, once our electoral system can guarantee the sanctity of the ballot box, then, the objectives of CODER would have been realised.Then we the facilitators can go our separate ways.
We have done our beat for our society because the crisis we are confronted with, is a monumental one. We are getting to a state of hopelessness. If people know that their votes count at elections, anyone who gets to office, will perform; he will be responsible for the aspirations and yearnings of the people.
Today, there is nothing like that because people believe that they will get into office knowing one character or the other and they know that they can always pervert the course of our electoral system; so, they even donâ€™t need peopleâ€™s vote.Look at what happened in the Ekiti Senatorial election that was annulled by the Court of Appeal. Over 19,000 votes were of the same serial number. You understand the implication that people are so audacious, so unreasonable and ready to do any nonsense. And we have similar occurrences of that nature that does not even command any meaningful sense all over our various elections. In 1999, President Carter, when he came to watch over our election, when he was going to leave in the morning, we asked him to give us his opinionâ€™, unfortunately, he could not.
He said the thing was worrisome, that sometimes they got to polling units at about the close of voting, not more than 40 people voted there. But they got to the collation centers, they found that the same polling unit recorded 400. Things of that similar nature have been the order of the day in our electoral system.
So, if President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s government decides to change its position and sends a new bill incorporating the Uwais major recommendation, particularly over the fact that the executive should not be involved in the appointment of the electoral umpire and that nobody should assume office until all judicial interventions in its matters have been concluded, then, there will be no reason for us to continue with the struggle because, our struggle is to make peoples vote count at elections.
If you look at local government elections in Nigeria for example, the recent ones and itâ€™s across all parties, AC, as we saw in Lagos State and which was supervised by Tinubu; PDP doing its thing as usual;, ANPP, especially what happened in Kano; APGA and PPA; you discover that the SEICs are just like commodities in the handbags of the state governors or the party in control. So, while we are talking about the appointment of INEC chairman, the governors are insisting that they must still hold on to SEICs according to the constitution, but the Uwais Panel knocked that away. Donâ€™t you see a double standard. You will discover that most local government elections were even far worse than the elections in 2007. Making the votes count, donâ€™t you think you politicians are the real problem and they are the ones who really have to be more sincere?
Itâ€™s not only that they have a role to play, they are the cause of the matter. We are talking about politicians, they are the cause of the matter.
CODER is predominantly made up of politiciansâ€¦?
(Cuts in) Yes, let me tell you something, thatâ€™s why we must do the right thing. Obama said â€˜we donâ€™t need strong men, we need strong institutions. In our own recommendations, this CODER position paper, it is to the effect that the Uwais recommendation should go down to the state level also.
It should not be the governor that should be appointing the state electoral umpire, thatâ€™s our recommendation.Each state has a Judicial Commission that should be vested with that power as Uwais recommended that the National Judicial Council should be the one that should do the sorting out, receive application and recommend three to the National Council of State, who are to nominate one to the Senate for confirmation. Itâ€™s the same thing that we recommended at the state level.So, it is the institutions that have not been made to produce descent honourable men.
Using the NADECO example, either as Â Â Â a result of strategic failure, or as a result of being overwhelmed, Nigeria as a nation, was hijacked from NADECO which did all the fighting and Iâ€™m sure you will agree with me, that was how even PDP, too, was hijacked just as Alliance for Democracy, AD, was hijacked and caused to die.
And even those who were part of the rot that NADECO was fighting for, were the ones who eventually came to power. So, what does that say about the polity, the people and the political class of which I would say you are a member?
Unfortunately, your analysis may be right to some extent and to the extent that NADECO did not succeed in forming a political party to pursue its agenda. And some right winged elements, faceless cabal hijacked the political processes to pursue its agenda.
The fact that they failed in that venture, is a fundamental error of our recent history. One major crisis we had internally within the NADECO was that within the NADECO home front and the ones abroad. Majority of NADECO members who were abroad insisted that NADECO people should not be involved in General Abdulsalamiâ€™s transition programme until there was convocation of a Sovereign National Conference and national questions, answered.Some of us, who were at home imagined that if we didnâ€™t participate, these faceless cabal who were the same confederates, sympathizers, loyalists of the military agenda, would have a field day. They would assume office without being elected and they would position themselves as representing the people, and now question our own bona fide.
Which they did?
Yes, which they almost did.
No, not that they almost did. They did or, why else is this new struggle, if I may put it that way?
Okay, if thatâ€™s how you want to put it?
So, this was the circumstances upon which the event of 1999 happened. To the extent that, most of the elements who were the leadership of NADECO, were not the type that made money through the military. We had to mobilise resources even to run election in most places.
It is this same gangsters, who are military contractors, who had the money succeeded in hijacking the electoral process. That was what happened in the case of NADECO.Now, I said CODER is not a political party, itâ€™s like a Non-Governmental Organisation that is interested in ensuring that the sanctity of the ballot box is guaranteed and protected.
So, the strictures of political party power struggle will not be…(Cuts in) It will not be part of it. Let me say that from the time of NADECO struggle and the death of Abacha and now, so many things have happened.
A number of our front liners, some of them participated in the transition of Abdulsalami, became governors and I say, to a very large extent, many of them did very well in their offices given the circumstances of their various states.But then, today, the fact that peopleâ€™s votes donâ€™t count constitutes a stumbling block in the process of consolidating democracy in Nigeria. The political operators are not helping democracy
Who did you say?
Yes, you heard me; the political operators are not helping democracy.
Just for the record sir?
What the political operators are just busy doing, is to steal as much money, to sustain themselves, their families and their collaborators in office. Thatâ€™s why a group of people very indecently can boast to the world that they are going to rule Nigeria for the next 60 years. They have already told us that your votes donâ€™t matter.
But the truth of the matter is that God has never crowned the efforts of people like that, they have always had temporary victories which will not last. What we want to do and what CODER is about doing as from today, is to finally work toward making the electoral institutions to perform to such an extent that there will be protection of the sanctity of the ballot box and that it is not the election managers who will decide who is elected. It is the people that will express through their ballot that will determine who will govern the people for what period of time. That is the basis of CODER