Any attempt to rig the coming elections will create problems all over the country —Odumakin
In this interview by AKINWALE ABOLUWADE, spokesperson of Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin speaks about his role in the constitution of the leadership of INEC under President Goodluck Jonathan; President Muhammadu Buhari’s attitude to leadership, insecurity and more. Excerpts:
You were a member of Save Nigeria Group (SNG) which is said to be involved in the nomination of members of INEC to ex-president Goodluck Jonathan. Can you tell us what really happened at that time and the extent of involvement of SNG?
My involvement was in national interest. After Goodluck Jonathan became the acting president after the national protest, one of his former aides, Oronto Douglas, my friend who is now late came to meet some of us who forced the cabal out of power to say that his principal has decided that he wanted to have a situation where a credible electoral body would discharge its functions without having war and in that process he did not want to nominate people that he knew or ask politicians to nominate people for him. Rather, he wanted people to nominate for him from the civil society group so that people of integrity could come on board. We saw that as a credible move and as an attempt to give us a proper electoral body. The whole idea of a sitting president nominating the electoral commissioner is an anathema. An independent organ like the Judicial Council and the rest should be assigned to recommend names to the president to pick from. But, be that as it may, we saw that as a good move aimed at improving our elections and also coming from the fact that the man that was initially his boss as the president then – late Umaru Yaradua – did acknowledge the fact that the election that brought him in as president was flawed and as a result of that he set up the Uwais Pannel. So, we saw the move as a continuation of the need to have a credible electoral system and that was why we went to work. In the process of carrying out that assignment, a lot of names were suggested to Goodluck Jonathan and he accepted one of the names. When he told the nation that he never met Professor Attahiru Jega until he appointed him as INEC chairman, it was the truth. In the course of the assignment, we had dealt with other zones, we were looking at Northwest. When we raised the question of who we can get from there, Nasdir El Rufai who is the present governor of Kaduna State was around. He said for Northwest, I have this wonderful lady who worked with me at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as my secretary. He spoke so well about her that the group was convinced that she was the kind of person we were looking for. We asked him to bring her Curriculum Vitae. Some days later, he brought the CV and I personally took the CV from him which I gave to the late Oronto Douglas which he passed on to the ex-president. So, Buhari had nothing to do with her appointment. Ex-president Jonathan wanted a credible electoral body.
Many people are saying that the current administration should have built on that?
Like I said, if Jonathan wanted to behave like this administration, perhaps, he would have picked Orubebe. When the sitting president came in, the first thing he tried to do was to make Amina Zakari the acting INEC chairman. It was only when there was an uproar that the current chairman was appointed. And from that time, Amina Zakari carries on as if she is the chairman of the Commission.
What advice would you give President Buhari on the extension of tenure of his service and security chiefs whose performances are perceived not to be very impressive?
Except he allows them to go, the impression would be given that he is just keeping them for election purposes. His security chiefs have been ineffective. This Inspector General of Police was Commissioner of Police in Kano. You will remember that it was in Kano that they had the controversial election where the Resident Electoral Commissioner was burnt into ashes. It was this guy that went there as Commissioner of Police that went there and without any investigation said that it was a natural cause. Clearly, his being kept in office – as at today – the IG has become an ex-policeman. Keeping an ex-policeman as IG of the country can only mean they have a special assignment for the president and not the country. He should let him go and appoint other people into those offices. It shows clearly that Mr President is not thinking about the country but just about himself by keeping the service chiefs. Nothing qualified the IGP to become IGP. He was Commissioner of Police in 2015.
If you had access to members of the international community they would tell you that the Osun election should have been declared at the first ballot. It was alleged that she was the one that moved the election into the run off to give the ruling party opportunity. Zakari was the Director of Operations and the one on ground. From those on ground, a clear winner emerged from the first election. I think it was after the election that she moved from Operations to Welfare. In all the elections where there were issues in recent time from Ondo to Edo to Ekiti, she had always been mentioned as having one thing to do with the whole thing and if you do your research, there is hardly any of these elections that you would not find El Rufai being around as part of the APC team. Apart from the fact that she is El Rufai’s nominee, she is also the niece of the Mr President.
But that allegation had been variously debunked; are you talking from an informed background?
The presidency has shown that it does not know the meaning of the word cousin. I never knew that our presidency is so challenged to the extent that it will not know the meaning of the word niece. A niece is your brother or sister’s daughter or your brother-in-law or sister-in-law’s daughter. Amina Zakari is Buhari’s daughter in-law. Amina’s father is President Buhari’s brother in-law so how would the presidency say that the daughter of his in-law is not his niece? So, they don’t know the meaning of niece in the presidency.
The presence of Amina Zakari continues to generate ripples in the polity. You should be feeling guilty given your reported involvement in her appointment?
No, it was done in default. Up to date, I never met Amina in my life. If I met her on the streets I may not know her. Like I said Nasir El Rufai was part of the SNG movement. It was on that basis that he was able to nominate Amina Zakari to us then.
What is your relationship with Pastor Bakare and El Rufai like now?
I have relationship with Pastor Bakare but I have no relationship with El Rufai. I never knew him before; I knew him in the days of SNG. I met him online and we started collaborating. We started the Movement until we later met. Pastor Bakare is a fearless man of God who had spoken the truth to power but on El Rufai, I don’t want to comment.
You were General Buhari’s spokesman in 2011 and then you saw him at very close quarters; what kind of person did you know him to be?
It was after he nominated Pastor Bakare as his running mate that I started to be his spokesman. We lived together in the same house, we related; he was a good man. He was a decent man and was friendly but in terms of capability, I saw gaps and that was why I was not encouraged to be with him in 2015. We ran the campaigns together. There was no day we sat down. There were no ideas from people; there was nothing. I did not see the capacity to govern a country like this (in him) and that was why – after the first election – I was not encouraged to continue to support him after the first election.
So you are no longer in touch with Mr President?
No, the last time we spoke was in 2011.
How do you perceive the prospect of his re-election?
It will be a bad thing for the country if the present government should come back. That we should continue another four years like this? First of all the Miyetti Allah members have been accused of killing many Nigerians and you are calling it crisis and not terrorism. Not one of the Miyetti Allah members today is standing trial for all those deaths. When they killed 24 people in January, the President invited Ortom to Abuja and said go and find accommodation for your neighbours. After this, the IG said those that are killing the people are Nigereans. Now, this same group has temerity to say we are endorsing presidential candidate. When it gets to that point they are saying that Miyetti Allah wants another four years to continue the atrocity they are perpetrating. That is not acceptable. There is no economic direction in Nigeria today. Like Rotimi Amechi was alleged to have said, many are hungry; people are crying. So, Nigeria cannot continue this way. We need a fresh start. The government scored low on security, economy and corruption.
The military recently invaded the premises of the Daily Trust newspapers; what did that tell you about this democracy? Can you draw a parallel line between this and what the media experienced under the military?
Well, we are in a quasi-military regime. That should never have happened in a civil environment. You saw that displayed under this administration. You remember the invasion of the National Assembly the other time by the DSS? You have seen the maximum force being used on protesters like Shites and the rest. You have seen the rate at which ‘gestaponites’ tactics are being deployed under a civil rule. It is bastardisation of democracy. No matter what, there are civil processes of dealing with such matters, not resulting to gangsterism posture as if we are still under military dictatorship. There is a kind of dictatorship in this government and Nigerians should be aware of what is going on and resist it.
A faction of Afenifere plans to hold an endorsement rally for President Buhari in January 29 in Ibadan. Why?
There is no faction in Afenifere for goodness sake and journalists should inform the public better. We have no problem with anybody making endorsement. They can even call themselves Miyetti Allah SouthWest. We don’t have any problem with them. You have been following developments; in parts of the SouthWest in the last three and half years you have been hearing of the killer herdsmen against the Yoruba people. When there was crisis in Ile-Ife, only the Ile-Ife people were arrested including the traditional rulers that were taken to Abuja. Did you hear any of these people speaking up? Two months to elections, they got all the money, teamed together and said they are Afenifere faction; which faction? Is that how factions emerge? There is no faction in Afenifere at all and if there is honour and decency, they should not call themselves Afenifere. They can call themselves anything else. It smacks off dishonesty.
What then is the position of Afenifere on this election; is the group planning to endorse any candidate?
Our position is very clear; we need to restructure Nigeria to true federalism where every section of Nigeria will develop at their own pace, where the honour can be with the people, where autonomy can be with the people, where state police will be there to guarantee safety of life and property. That is where we stand and we are going to back a candidate that will return us to true federalism. I will not urge us to support and I will not encourage Yoruba people to support another four years of Miyetti Allah rule where human lives would be nothing, where our people would be killed in Oke Ogun, in Yewa in Ogun State and in Ondo State. For three days, herdsmen occupied a local government in Ondo State. That cannot continue for another four years; it must come to an end. In due course, we will tell our people that we are for restructuring of the federation where Nigeria will go back to productivity not just sharing oil money.
What are the expectations and fears of the Afenifere as the elections draw near?
There are fears starting from the ruling party. The president refused to sign the Electoral Act bill. Here is a president who went to Shagari village to commiserate with them; he could not write the date well. He wrote 218 and they told him to add zero. He will now be the one to read every line of the voluminous electoral act.The whole essence of not signing it is now getting clearer that they don’t want electronic transmission of results and declaration of results at the polling units. The ban on presidential campaign was lifted on November 18, today is January 8 and APC has held just one rally. And, they are boasting that they would win the election. So, what are they planning? Any attempt to rig this election would create problem all over the country. The world community should make it very clear because if anything happens in Nigeria it will be a whole lot of problem not only for Nigeria, but the rest of the world. They can’t afford any eruption in a country like Nigeria with about 200 million people. Therefore, the world community must put sufficient pressure on this administration not to tamper with the election, not to create a scene to postpone the election or to manipulate the election. The way it is today, if such a thing happens it will create problem for the country.
Don’t you think the Federal Government is actually touching the masses by empowering them with a scheme like the Trader Moni?
It is advanced vote buying. Nothing more, nothing less and it is a shame that a whole Vice President of the country would go to the market and distribute money the way Lawrence Anenih would do in Benin City in those days. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria is not ashamed to go and distribute money in the market place. Who will audit the way they distributed the money? It is unfortunate.
Does it bother you that card reader may not be used for the general election?
That will be unfortunate. Remember that a data came up which showed that in 2015, 13.5 million people voted without the card reader and 25 percent of the people voted where President Buhari voted. If INEC had made a commitment that they would use card reader and they now put pressure on them, the INEC should not succumb to that pressure; they should do the right thing and let us have a credible election. To our people in Nigeria, this is not the best of times for our country. The situation is tough, things are bad. Like Rotimi Amaechi was reported to have said, everybody is crying now in our country. But, we should not give up on our country; we should keep hope alive. Let us get our PVCs ready and make informed choices about the progress of our country. We should take this country back to its days of glory and move it far ahead. Nigerians should make it clear that anybody that wants to manipulate their will would not be accepted.