By Dapo Akinrefon & Gbenga Oke

SENATOR Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi, represented Oyo South Senatorial  District of Oyo State from 1999-2007 in the National Assembly. He also contested the governorship election on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2007.

Ajimobi, who recently returned to the Action Congress (AC) told Vanguard in this interview that Nigeria needs to operate two-party system. He also commended the recent move by some opposition political parties to initiate a movement with the aim of outwitting the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) come 2011 saying it is a step in the right direction.

While commenting on the country’s flawed electoral process, he opined that it is not the electoral laws that need to be changed but the people who operate them. He also bared his mind on other national burning issues.
Excerpts:

ALLIANCES are being forged by major  opposition political parties in a bid to outwit the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2011. Do you see this alliance leading anywhere?
I think obviously yes. I have always believed that Nigeria, like other democracies, should have two major political parties and that all these proliferations of parties should not come in. If you look at where democracy is really working well, we have those who are to the left and those who are to the right.

In America, you have the Democrats and the Republicans; in Britain, you have Labour and Conservative. I think in Nigeria, we need two major political parties because that will relieve us of too much regional politics and it will help us to fully practice democracy as it were be. That’s my philosophy.

I think the recent realignment of political parties to face the PDP is a welcomed development and until that takes place, PDP cannot be removed.

They have perfected their acts of rigging, of hooliganism and fraud that it’s difficult to beat them to it. So, the only way you can face them and remove them is to ensure that all opposition come together and form a formidable front to face them and I believe that should happen. If that should happen, PDP will be removed otherwise, we will have many years of PDP.

But it has been argued that it is not only the formation of a mega party that may remove the PDP, but ensuring that there is electoral reforms. Do you subscribe to this view?
Of course. First, it is not the process itself that is faulty, it is the people. And the moment you have the PDP of this world, elections will continue to be rigged, but if people can unite and be formidable, rigging will be more difficult for the PDP.

So, even if you have a new electoral process and people are not together to fight against PDP, it will be difficult to remove them. In the electoral process, if they say take two or three steps to get there, PDP will always try to short circuit it, but if people are many and they are formidable against them, it will be more difficult.

In most of the elections in many states, PDP did not win but the oppositions were divided. Right from the days of voting in Nigeria, there has always been rigging.

There was never a time, people did not rig elections, but once people are many and they are against you in a particular place, it’s difficult to steal ballot boxes because you know that as you’re running away, people will attack and stop you; but if the people who will attack you are divided, then you can get away with it.

Sen. Ajimobi

So, I will say a major step is for all opposition political parties to come together, form a formidable force and face PDP. Again, it will be nice to have the electoral process reviewed, once it’s reviewed, we eliminate major areas of rigging.
Take it today, there is no process you have that people cannot manipulate if they want to. In America, they can manipulate their process, they have done it before; so, there is nothing like a perfect electoral system.

Nothing is perfect. Even if you say Option A4, Secret Open Ballot System, what if on the way to the collation centre, they play tricks with it?  The basic thing I’m advocating for is to have an electoral process, with first and foremost, the unity of everybody where you have majority of the people coming together as a formidable force.

What is your position on the Uwais Committee recommendations?
Well, I support it absolutely. The Uwais committee report as far as I’m concerned is acceptable to most of us. We’ve read and gone through it and it made good recommendations to correct some of the lapses in the previous process. But you see any system you bring, no matter how perfect it is depends entirely on the people operating that system.
I am saying that the system that Uwais brought or others brought, if people are not riggers, they are still manageable, they are still workable. There is nothing that we are doing here that  people are not doing in other countries.

The electoral system here is not so bad but the fact is that our people are the problem. So, I’m saying that one of the major steps we can take to reduce rigging is to have two party system. Let’s for now, for the purpose of this discussion divide them into progressives and conservatives; if the progressive can come together, unite and become one and the conservatives become one, then you will see that if any party is going to win, the margin will not be eighty to twenty per cent; it will be like fifty five to forty five per cent. That is democracy.

But when one group is united and the other is divided, it becomes a problem. I’m just saying that the electoral process is a major step but I think the unity among the progressives is also important for the process to work.

Talking about individuals who present themselves for election, are you not surprised that the level of our development is a reflection of the quality of people that are ruling us?

Of course, the quality of people anywhere in the world, will determine their performance and their rendering of service to the people. Most of the people we see in politics today, go and check their pedigree, they are  into politics due to lack of jobs. It’s not out of interest, infact, it’s business.

At the grassroot level, it’s not because many of them want to do it but there is nothing to do and so, the only job available to do is politics. So, you can now imagine, those people who don’t have jobs, who are not even qualified to work even if there are jobs. This is the level we find ourselves today, it’s unfortunate for this country.

What is responsible for this?
You know the world abhors a vacuum and somebody must fill that vacuum, if the professionals refuse to come there, those who have no jobs will go there, it’s a natural thing.

*Ajimobi

I don’t think anybody should be  complaining that the right person is not there because the right persons don’t come there. You don’t need a rocket science to know all these things, if you don’t have the right persons, you will get the wrong answers, it’s as simple.

There was an impression created that most of the people who were with you  abandoned you after the election, how true is it?

Let me correct that impression. Majority of the people who were with me are fully with me and without being immodest, I must credit myself along with the group that even after they stole our mandate, people still managed to stay on. The average Nigerian will not stay with you when you are not in government.

But I’ve been very fortunate that the majority of the people  are still with me and I don’t deceive myself in politics. Again, go and check those people that left us, what was their background? Like I said, it is the quality and the level of the people we have in politics.

What’s your own concept of development and do you think that as a nation we are progressing or we are stagnant?

I think we are retrogressing, we are not stagnant, we are not progressing. We are retrogressing in the sense that when you look at the standards that people use to measure development; if you compare Nigeria today with those that we were at the same level several years ago, that is to say countries like Indonesia and others, look at where they are now, when you compare it with ours, you will discover that we are retrogressing.

And this is a country that you cannot boast of electricity and basic requirement of life. We don’t have the basic things of life, in those days, we used to have them.

So, I wouldn’t say we are stagnant, we’re retrogressing and this is a country that we are making money from oil but some people are just stealing the money and the majority are just suffering. By and large, I would just say that development to me is a measurement of quality of life of the people.

President Yar’Adua has identified flaws in the 1999 Constitution and also the National Assembly is also in the process of reviewing the document. As a former lawmaker, do you think it is time to review the constitution because people have argued that it has not been fully tested.

There have been arguments for and against review of the constitution. I personally believe that no matter the constitution that you have, it is the quality of the people that will determine how it wil be operated.

Look at America, how often do they change their constitution? They’ve had it (constitution) since. But look at our own, it is the quality of the people, it’s our people that is the problem, it’s not the constitution.

And I’m saying that even if they change it tomorrow, there will still be problems because the people themselves are the problem, it’s not the constitution.

To me, there is nothing wrong with our constitution. It’s a Nigerian problem and the only way this country can change is if the individual constitution changes.

What constitute the Nigerian is what we need to change, not the written constitution. The mindset of Nigerians must change for things to improve, otherwise, you can write ten thousand constitution, it does not mean anything.

It was recently reported that there was a reconciliation meeting between you and the former governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adeshina, does that mean that you have returned to the Action Congress?
One must not confuse two things. Yes, we have reconciled our differences with Alhaji Lam and honestly, there were no differences really. Even when we went there, there was nothing to reconcile, you know, he’s always been an elder to me, a leader, he was my teacher in school.

So, it’s not that we had a quarrel. With me, people should not say that we quarreled, we just had different directions where I went to try my own luck, which I succeeded.
We won the election.

But what is important for me is that people should not see our relationship as a  political one. We have never been in the same level, to me, he’s my senior, he’s my uncle and my teacher.

However, it’s my philosophy that all progressives must unite and to that extent, you can expect me in the midst of the larger progressive. You can even say that that reconciliation is a preview to my joining AC. No, I’m not in ANPP. I’m grateful to ANPP for giving me the opportunity to use the platform to prove myself, to reach out and sell myself to the people.

I just wish that the ANPP will come together and work together with the progressives, so that all of us can come together to form a formidable force. That is my concept.

Now that politicians from different political parties are dropping their ego and trying to come together to ensure development in the country, what in your opinion is the way forward for a country that wants to progress?

I think the way forward is to make sure all progressives come together. Second, is to encourage people of good pedigree to participate in politics. Once you can have quality people in politics, the quality of our politics will improve.
But right now, we have about 80 to 90 percent mediocre in politics and they escape to become leaders, you can’t expect good qualities from them.

So, I’m saying that the way forward is for people of like minds to come together, drop their individual ambitions and preferences for the over all interest of everybody.

If possible, later on we make politics less attractive so that people will not go there with an intention to steal money.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.