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2011: N/Assembly wants to take away INEC’s independence, says Bisi Akande

Chief Bisi Akande was former governor of Osun State and now National Chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. He was the late Bola Ige’s most trusted ally.

In spite of his age, the immediate past governor of Osun State could be said to be a Bola Ige boy. He was Secretary to old Oyo State Government from1979 to 1983 when he (Ige) was the governor of the State.

In this interview with Vanguard,he picked holes in the decision of the National Assembly to dictate the time table for the 2011 general elections Akande said, though there are various presidential aspirants jostling to emerge as the flag bearer of the ACN, the choice of a presidential candidate will rest on the shoulders of members of the party. He also spoke on other  burning national issues. Excerpts:

RECENTLY, Nigeria celebrated 50 years of independence, but the general verdict is that it is not worth celebrating, what is your position on this?

The purpose of any polity is to protect the citizens, and so, the number one reason of any government is security of its citizens. In the last 50 years, the  security situation in Nigeria has been badly deteriorated and in that area, there is nothing to celebrate.

Another reason for the coming together of people, families and individuals into a kind of association we call a country or a state, is to be able to have common facilities, infrastructure such as transportation, electricity, communication and the likes.  In this area, apart from the communication sector, there iis hardly any improvement.

The railway has totally collapsed, before now, there was perfect system, functioning very wel in 1960, but now, it is nothing to write home about. Our roads are death traps.  In 1960, the road might be narrower, but they were good enough for the traffic of 1960, but today, it’s like having no roads at all.

You can’t move happily between Lagos and Ibadan, you can’t move happily between Lagos and Benin, you can’t move between Ife and Akure; and nowhere in the South West are you happily linked either to the South-East or to the North.

Bisi Akande

So, in the area of transportation, we have nothing to celebrate; electricity is even worse. When you talk of the economy, in 1960, in my own area of the South West, it’s like having full employment. When you leave school, you are totally employed or absolved through agriculture or through teaching; many people were trained as teachers, agricultural experts, technicians, there was a hundred per cent employment. Today, some people who left the university over ten years ago  have not got  job and so, the country is worse for it.

There are lots to think about and and do than voting some N7 to N10 billion for the purposes of celebrating 50 years independence, to me, it there is nothing to celebrate.

From what you’ve just highlighted, who should be held responsible for the decay in the country?
I think the military intervention in politics is the major aspect of our lives that is very aberrative. It should not have happened at all.

The military came to destroy the civil service. Before the military came into power, the most brilliant Nigerians were in the civil service and because of that, policy management and production was very efficient.

We had the best historians, the best economists; the best philosophers in the civil service.

At that time, the best brains were in the civil service because there was permanence of tenure; they can be in service until they retired. When the military came, they destroyed the permanence of their tenure.

They removed them  without any good reason; they wanted the civil servants to go against the general order and regulation.

And anytime they raised objections, they were removed by the military under one pretense or the other. From that moment, the brilliant ones have been running away from the civil service and trying to find somewhere else to stay; and as a result of that, public policy degenerated, and corruption took over, giving rise to bad governance.

The military are not supposed to be leaders, they are supposed to be the protector of territorial integrity of a country, but they abandoned their traditional jobs, to play politics.  And they destroyed political system and  every other thing that can be of value to the ordinary people of this country.

As a true advocate of federalism, would you say Nigeria is indeed practicing true federalism?

Nigeria is been called a federal republic but in practice, there is no federalism in Nigeria.  Let’s say that we took the system from America,(they always quote America) there is one example to show you that we don’t practice federalism. In the United States of America today, there is a standard of training for the police, but there are more than 1,400 police authorities in America today; but no police will  do anything outside what the law  proscribes.

The University can go to the Police College and hire the police.  Other institutions can hire the police all of whom are trained on a uniform basis as prescribed by law.

When you ask them to do anything other than what the law says they should do, they will tell to sign if you want them to work against the law; and so, as a result of that, you will not want to go against the law. That is the system in America today.

In Nigeria, there is only one police authority, and the only one authority is the recruiter, he’s the trainer and he’s the only one policing the whole country.

Are you surprised that there are armed robbers everywhere? Are you surprised that there are assassins  everywhere? So many people have been assassinated in Borno State alone.

Just last week, a prison was razed down in Bauchi, are you worried that there is no security in the country? Even if an angel becomes the Inspector – General of Police, there will be no better security under system where only one authority governs the police in a country of our size. In America where we copied this federal system, they don’t do that. They have unified all things, but Nigeria cannot grow under a system we now practice. It is no federal practice, it is a unitary system.

Having said this, what steps do you think can be taken to address these anomalies?

I think the only way to go about it, first, is to supervise elections and for us to be united and make sure that votes count. At present, corrupt people that were installed by the military, will continue to have their way, but it will reduce gradually if there is order. Good people will be confident to say they want to serve when things are put in the right way, but now, honest  people are running away from politics.

Good people don’t want to be recognized as politicians because they don’t want to sit side by side with the bad eggs in politics.

Many brilliant people are running away from politics, people feel ashamed to be called politicians because votes never count. So, the moment our votes count and the people begin to have their true representatives in all strata of decision making  position; the moment that happens, very good and efficient people will be enthroned and then, good life will start coming back to this country.

Speaking of elections,  INEC chairman has expressed fear that if the National Assembly fails to carry out further amendments, it might lead to a delay in the conduct of the 2011 elections, what is your take on this?

I think members of the National Assembly, because they are there not through peoples’ vote, want to perpetuate themselves in power. They want to be there for ever and they want to rig the elections before the elections are conducted through legislation. It is rigging of elections through legislation.

For example, the National Assembly dictated the date when elections are to be held, that is taking away the independence of INEC. INEC must be totally independent and must be free from dictation from anybody, but because these people want to perpetuate themselves in office, they want to make sure they rig the elections before INEC has any opportunity to perform.  They are using legislation to put a wood in the wheel of INEC and also on the way of political parties.

They have no business in party administration, when they talk of internal democracy, what do they mean by that, why should they make laws for the party? The political party is supposed to be an association of equal interest and so, they have no right to dictate to parties. Why should they make laws and make it uniform?

That is rigging elections by legislation and that is what the National Assembly is doing. I think they are now confused and they are going to confuse INEC and all of them are going to confuse Nigerians and if we are not careful, Nigeria will be in chaos before long.

Are you saying that the 2011 elections may not be credible after all?

I think the government in power now is overwhelmed, the presidency is overwhelmed, the National Assembly is confused,  INEC  is being overwhelmed, the Nigerian people are becoming despondent and everybody is seem to be saying let us pray. And so, maybe what I will say for now is that we should see what happens between now and the end of this month.

Before now, INEC had released election time table, but later realized it needed more time, on your part, will you agree with INEC calling for an extension of time?

The Action Congress of Nigeria was the first to let the world know that the time table set by INEC was impracticable and INEC, perhaps by been naïve, did not see it coming until we started spelling it out. And so, it was the Action Congress of Nigeria that alerted the whole country that the time table INEC set for itself was impracticable.

If INEC says it needs an extension of time, it is as a result of the alarm raised by ACN; we knew it will not be possible and if the country is not careful, six months might  not be enough to do the job if the National Assembly remains sluggish in amending the constitution.

With the way things stand, do you see the hand over date being extended?

It is not safe for Nigeria to extend the hand over date, it is not at all. I am not in a position to say this is how we will do it because there are some institutions that can say so, but I think the coordination is not good.

The omen is not satisfactory.

The former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr Nuhu Ribadu has declared his intention to run for president on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria come 2011, but one will like to know if he is a member of your party ?

Honestly, I don’t. He has declared his interest and many more are declaring their interest and everybody wants to be a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria and they call me everyday on the telephone. Many of them have been in position before, while others have not been, but as a political party, we are going slow and steady in the organization of our party.

We have started registration of members and when we finished the registration of members, it will take only ten days and we are introducing a phenomenon into it, I call it a phenomenon because it has not been done in the country in the last 30 years. Whoever wants to be a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria must pay money.

Is that what the constitution of your party says as regards registration of members?

Yes, if you want to be a member of our party, you must pay membership fees. We are not Father Christmas at all, if you want to be a member of our party, you must be ready to finance the party and you must start financing the party through your membership fee. Not that we will be begging money from candidates or aspirants to run the party.

The registration will take ten days and from there, we will know how many people are members of the Action Congress of Nigeria and the spread, then we will start with congresses to organize our ward, local government, state and national executives.

When that is finished, we will come out with a guideline as to who wants to contest election to the various elective positions. By then, you will know those who will be contesting on the platform of the ACN so don’t single out anybody at this stage until then.

Does that mean your party does not have a presidential candidate?

We don’t have a presidential candidate but we may have presidential aspirants from among whom we are going to select a  presidential candidate by a system to be adumbrated.

Your party will hold its national convention before the end of this month, what should Nigerians expect from the outcome of the convention? Is there a possibility of the presidential candidate of your party  emerging?

No, we are going to announce our policy statement of how we will rule Nigeria when we come to power and after saying that, then, we will now give out a guideline for those who want to hold positions and then, we will select our candidates. It depends on the INEC time table, because we don’t want to preempt them, but now, we are reorganizing the leadership of the party. We are restructuring.

With happenings in your party,many people are anxious to know if  Governor Babatunde Fashola will be given a second term ticket to be the party’s flag bearer in 2011?

You will ask first of all, has he applied? If he has not applied, I won’t be able to answer that question.
Does that mean, he needs to apply before he is given the ticket?

Oh yes, when the guideline is out, only those who apply would be considered.

The recent  bomb blast  has continued to generate controversy with some northern elders  calling for the resignation of President Goodluck Jonathan on account of his comment on the event, what do you make of this?

The bomb blast of October 1, has become an implosion mechanism within PDP. It is their business the way they manage it, and that is the way I see it.

The bomb blast episode will destroy PDP as a political party in Nigeria. I don’t know anything that is right within the PDP,  everything is wrong in the ruling party and that is why I said, the issue of bomb blast will scatter PDP and destroy its leadership.

The Obafemi Awolowo Institute of Government and Public Policy of which you are the chairman is organizing lecture series on how elections in Nigeria can be credible, what really informed this and what does the institute stand to achieve?

The Obafemi Awolowo Institute of Government and Public Policy is behaving true to its name, it has no business with scientific research, but it has a lot of business in research into government and public policy and topically, it is a lecture and we want to explain to Nigeria what makes an election credible.

We are promoting a debate on the integrity of election. Last week, we brought in those who know about election management; this week, we brought in the lawyers to treat cases about elections in court.

Prominent lawyers have given us their opinions. Subsequently, we will bring in the police and security agencies to come and say what they know about elections; we also tend to bring in intellectuals and the judiciary to tell us how elections can be credible in Nigeria.

When we gather all these opinion, we intend bringing in experts  to review these opinions and thereafter come out with a communiqué which will be presented to INEC as our own contributions to assist Nigeria towards credible elections. That is the contribution of the institute to electoral integrity in Nigeria and that is what we are trying to do.

But from your own point of view, how do you think we can have credible elections in Nigeria?

We have taken a step. It is the duty of INEC to coordinate the police and all stakeholders to produce credible elections, the only duty I we have, is to assist INEC to think and that is what we have started.


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