By Olayinka Ajayi
Mr Akin Osuntokun was Political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and a member of the Atiku Campaign in the 2019 elections. In this interview, Osuntokun speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s New Year letter among other issues in the polity. Excerpts:
Let us start from the beginning of 2019. The nation was so tensed up and divided down the ladder because of then-upcoming general elections, especially the presidential segment. Many people keep wondering why is it that the nation is always tensed up ahead of elections?
There is nothing peculiar about general elections generating tension in any country, including Nigeria. All countries share the experience though the depth and impact vary. The tension and potential for conflict is graduated along the degree to which such election approximates zero sum or winner takes all and loser loses all proportions. In Nigeria, the high degree of tension is explained by the close approximation to a zero sum outcome
The elections have come and gone and the opposition PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, lost despite the shortcomings of the incumbent APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, who came into the election with virtually failed promises on the economy, security and anti-corruption. Let us forget about rigging because it is generally believed that both APC and PDP rigged in the election but one party out-rigged the other. What do you think went wrong with the PDP?
Nothing went wrong with the PDP other than the wrong assumption that the outcome of the election was not already predetermined. The election was nothing more than going through a charade. Given the obsession of General Buhari with political power, it is illogical to believe that he would, under any circumstances, entertain the notion of submitting to a free and fair election. The issue is that if, on account of this reality, the opposition declines participation in the election, it would be fairly condemned for escapism and throwing in the towel even before getting into the ring
Many people felt Atiku should have admitted defeat at the polls and refrain from going to the tribunal and ultimately the Supreme Court to contest the outcome of the election. In other words, contesting the election was ill-advised and he ended up losing at the tribunal and Supreme Court. With a benefit of hindsight, do you think Atiku was right in contesting the election at the tribunal?
It is the same logic with the previous question- where the futility of seeking justice before a judiciary already rigged against Atiku is not sufficient reason for not seeking to exhaust, as the saying goes, all lawful recourse to seek redress.
The Buhari government is in its second term. On the economy, things may not have significantly improved because of issues beyond the administration like the reliance on crude as the only source of revenue for Nigeria from outside Nigeria.
The government argues that Boko Haram has been degraded even if we still have security challenges like kidnapping and banditry in some parts of the country while it appears to be making headway in its anti-corruption drive. What do you think?
My assessment of the Buhari government is not different from those of other normal, rational and objective Nigerians.
The untenable extenuation you are making is highly provocative. In my estimation, the Buhari government, for whatever reasons, had only double down on its failures-and the signal failure is the deliberate perpetration of the politics of division, bigotry and nepotism of the highest order. How do you succeed as a government by a defiant alienation of the majority of citizenship?
President Buhari just wrote a letter to Nigeria in place of the usual presidential address to Nigerians on New Year day. He claimed so many achievements in the said letter including tremendous improvement in the power sector. I am sure you have read the said letter, what do you say to the President?
The gap between the reality of the policies and conduct of this government and a letter of politically correct sentiments is vast and unbridgeable. Against the background of the Nigerian reality, the letter is a mockery-a mockery of its own failure and insincerity
President Buhari has said he is not seeking third term in office and the APC Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, accused the PDP, your party, of inventing the third term issue as some kind of distraction. What do you think?
Who cares if he is seeking a third term or fourth term in office? Personally I wish he does because of the capacity of the aspiration to radicalise the situation. The resolution of the Nigerian political impasse needs to be forced and it is such a radicalisation that can starkly clarify the degeneration we confront-and hopefully elicit proportionate reaction
Some people think the President should not have stopped at saying he is not seeking third term. They think he should have gone further to disown northern elements insisting that the North will remain in power after 2023 when Buhari would have completed the region’s eight year in power. What do you think and what is the implication of the North remaining in power beyond 2023 in the face of unofficial North-South power shift arrangement that should see presidency going to the Igbo which never had the presidency or the Yoruba scheming for the office after the eight years of Obasanjo?
At the root of the Nigerian problem is the clash of vision, period. The President acts and governs in a manner that advances his vision and agenda for Nigeria-which is open and discernible even to the blind. Should any fair-minded and truly patriotic Nigerian needs be persuaded of the necessity and desirability of conceding to ‘Igbo Presidency?’ How do you encourage the unity and integration of Nigeria by treating other Nigerians as conquered people?
Many Nigerians believe opposition PDP is dead and that this is not good for Nigeria. And they may be correct because, every day, you have reports of PDP members decamping to the APC. Is opposition politics really dead in Nigeria?
There is no functional political party system in Nigeria, neither do we have viable political parties; what we have in APC and PDP are special purpose vehicles for participating in elections. The divisions of Nigeria transcend political parties. Is any PDP government in the Muslim North opposed to RUGA? Have you heard any APC government (regardless of their Buhari hero worship) in the South advocate the same bigoted policy?
We are in 2020, what advice do you have for the APC on moving Nigeria forward? This question is without prejudice to your status as a partisan politician.
The only advice I have is acceptance and commitment to a meaningful constitutional review that restores Nigeria to a viable political structure (restructuring). I leave the details of how and what to do in this regard to the powers-that-be
What advice do you also have for the PDP as to how to operate as opposition party?
So far and within the constraints of the environment it is operating, PDP has not done too badly.
Rule of law and the rights of citizens were big issues in 2019. We had issues like Dasuki, Sowore being detained in contravention of court orders even though they have now been released. El Zakzaky is still in detention contrary to court order and despite public outrage. Some people say Nigerians deserve the treatment they are getting from this government because Buhari has antecedents that many are aware of before they elected him. What is your perspective?
Well, you have said it all. Just recall the exposition and admonition raised by Professor Wole Soyinka against the candidacy of Major General Muhammadu Buhari in the 2007 election year cycle. It is vintage Soyinka but it has now become a dubious honour. You can publish the same critique today and it would apply word-for-word to the Buhari presidency. And while then-candidate Buhari was soliciting for the Presidency in 2015, that was not in his resume to warrant revisionism of the 2007 critique. To be fair, people were just exasperated with candidate Jonathan, such that it is fair to say that Jonathan lost the election rather than Buhari winning. But it is never a good response cutting your nose to spite your face.