Robbers, drug dealers, others will take over power, if… —Adeniran
In this interview with JACOB SEGUN OLATUNJI, a seasoned administrator and acting national chairman of the
Social Democratic Party (SDP), Professor Tunde Adeniran, speaks on many national issues, calling for immediate
action against vote buying at elections. Excerpts:
What is your take on the nation’s current political situation?
To the glory of God, Nigeria is at peace and Nigerians are waking up to the reality that we all have to rise up and face the challenges before us. The realisation that a country is faced with challenges, I consider to be the beginning of finding solutions to those challenges. To me, these are trying times and I believe we should all tighten our belts and be ready to work harder than ever before and face the challenges that we have as a nation and as a people squarely.
You are the acting national chairman of Social Democratic Party (SDP). The Supreme Court only last week gave a landmark judgment on who is the actual presidential candidate of the party, in person of Mr Donald Duke. What is your reaction to this?
It is well with the party. The Supreme Court case is one that I had hoped would not get to that level of party members taking it and other members to court. But it happened and maybe God has a purpose for everything that happens.
My personal feeling is that while it is painful that the party and its members had to be taken to court and we had to be in litigation until we got to the Supreme Court. At the same time, I believe that it seems to have cleared an issue in contention. And because we are a party, we believe in the rule of law; we believe in due process. We hope that people will also learn from this experience so that we will be using internal party mechanisms to resolve whatever misgivings or misunderstandings that exist within the party. I also believe that the case, haven gone there; the declaration, haven been made by the Supreme Court, will make every member of the party come together.
Yes, we are a one political family and very dynamic party for that matter; a party of the future for this country. We will now need to come together and as much as possible, unite and work to promote the core values of our party. And, apart from that, also assist to broaden the base of participation in such a way that this party that holds a lot of promise for Nigerians will fulfill the expectations of Nigerians. I expect at this point that both former Governor Duke and Professor Jerry Gana will put this behind them and face the future as Nigerians and let us build the country. There is nothing to agonise over; it is over and we should just put it behind us.
As far as the party is concerned, it believes that we have to reach out to those who are members and those who are anxious to also join. The people are so enthusiastic about the party and we should sustain the enthusiasm and justify their expectations in the party by doing what is needful, particularly at this time when some other parties are having internal challenges, contradictions and so on. But I believe the Supreme Court outcome is a blessing in disguise.
How are you going to reach out to the aggrieved parties, because recently, Professor Gana said he was going to call a stakeholders’ meeting of his followers to review the judgment?
I believe it is the right thing to do. When you are in a political situation or movement, you have to keep on carrying people along. That is what makes you a leader. I believe that what the party is also doing is to reach out. By reaching out, we mean to genuinely extend our reconciliation tentacles to every corner; every area. We have a standing committee on reconciliation. It is headed by Professor Ahmed Rufai Alkali. He is a great scholar and seasoned politician and with deep knowledge of the internal dynamics of party politics. He has been relating with all the formations within the party. And his committee is still working hard and it will continue to make sure it reaches out to members of the party.
And, of course, if there are areas where the National Working Committee (NWC) needs to come in, even before they submit their report, we will come in. We will not hesitate because we believe that we have to have an inclusive party. Those who believe in our ideology; those who believe in our philosophy as social democrats have to be united and we should work together.
Is all you are saying now that all hope is not lost for the party?
Yes, the party, as you know, is trying to consolidate to ensure that we establish the necessary framework for the party to really launch out. Three things are very important in this regard. One, we have to be mindful of the core values and philosophy that led to the formation of the party itself, which would be the basis for driving it.
The second is that there is need to look back and see what has happened in the past; the events culminating in the present situation, and then, try to learn as much as possible from it.
The third is to look ahead to see how these challenges will be met and to navigate to the future and get the party to the level it should reach and actualise its potentials; and above all, give Nigerians hope.
We have been running associations; we have been running all kinds of groupings that you can call coming together of all kinds of people. This is one party that is different from the others, we can talk about maybe just two or three parties that are ideology-based and have ideological orientation. Equality is an attribute that we do not want to joke with. We want to use this effectively to galvanise our people; to mobilize them; motivate them and inspire them to higher heights as party members.
How would you assess the recently-concluded general election?
My assessment is basically in two areas. I will put it this way: The legal framework is still not what it should be. There is need to work hard and make sure that we have a legal framework for the conduct of elections, devoid of biases in favor of either groups or individuals and so on.
In other words, we need a framework that is selfless, not designed to actualise the interest of some people and give them undue advantage. We should think about the nation and the future of this country. In other words, regardless of who is in power, regardless of who is conducting it, we should have a framework for Nigeria that will run elections in such a way that you are not going for an election as if you are going for war. You should have it in such a way that it will be a festival of democratic choice, festival of freedom; that people have the right and opportunity to choose their leader who will represent them. People should be able to go and vote; get there, vote effortlessly and head for work or continue with whatever they were doing. We don’t have to close down the whole country for days because we’re having elections. We should be able to do it effortlessly. That legal framework is still not there. We need to have uniformity; uniformity in the sense that the issue of card readers have been raised over and over. In some places, they would use it, in others, they wouldn’t. We should have uniformity so that what is happening in one place is also happening in others. Since we are electing some people to lead us, we should be using the same template to throw up our leaders.
The legal framework, when it is refined and we have the appropriate framework, we move us on from there. We keep on putting virtually every blame or castigation on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). I believe that while we have to put INEC on its toes to do the needful within a refined legal framework that has to be done by the National Assembly; and, of course, approved by the president.
Nigerians themselves, particularly, we politicians, have so much to be done in terms of education and sensitisation of the people.
We keep on mortgaging the future by what is going on. Vote buying has become a phenomenon that makes nonsense, absolute nonsense, of the democratic process. People can no longer be elected on the basis of merit or what they have to offer, and on the basis of what the people think they could do for them. People are elected on the basis of how much cash they can dole out on that day. And my fear is that if care is not taken, you would see armed robbers and all kinds of characters taking over the country. All they need to do is to go and rob, have as much money as possible, and on Election Day, dole out the money and take over. And then we would be in deep trouble and this country would be finished in the process. We have to be mindful of this, watch out and be concerned about the future generations. This is not the type of system we inherited. We were complaining that those systems had shortcomings and instead of improving upon them, we have bastardised the whole thing. We have made the situation worse. What we are not practicing is not democracy. It is unfortunate and the rest of Africa is watching. The outside world is laughing at us, they are mocking us. And it is a dangerous thing. You now have a generation of leaders thrown up, not on the bases of the qualities that they possess as leaders, but on how deep their purse is. This is abominable. It is terrible and shameful for us as a nation and most unfortunate.
How do you think this can be curbed sir?
I have said it over and over. I believe that it can be curtailed. The leadership, the political class, must come together for the sake of the future and try to do something about it. That is one. Second is the younger generation. In the last dispensation, I was impressed. I was really impressed by the number of youths coming up and the caliber of young people coming up to say they want to be president of this country; they want to play some role and so on. It was very impressive. They have more work to do to mobilise the coming generation away from the negative tendencies and practices.
So, we have to change the orientation and this cannot be done just by the political class or the older generation alone. The younger generation must rise up because it is their future and the future of those to come after them that is at stake. The other thing is that those in authority at various levels; local government, state and national, must realise that things are not the way they should be in this country. We have to have a total reorientation. And I believe that as from May this year, there will be rethinking, reorientation and repositioning of our priorities and values in this country, so that we will all rise up and say, ‘look, we have a serious challenge in this country and we have to do this together.’ We have to change the system and our ways of doing things. That is the only way we can get better. That is the only way the country can improve. And that is the only way we will not be having all these terrible things that are consuming us like the culture of violence.
People now believe that in anything you want to do, you have to be violent about it. This is unfortunate. It is shameful and it is very dangerous for this country. Whatever people have to do, we all have to rise up and do it and change the trend. It is dangerous; it will consume all of us, if we’re not careful.
You are one of the architects of the two-party system during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Now, we are having over 90 political parties. What is your view on this? Do you want Nigeria to revert to old order?
My belief is that this is a culture of more or less turning politics to a market place. That is what has led us to having over 90 parties. For goodness’ sake, over 90 parties for what? Some members of some of those parties do not even remember the names of their parties. And you see people just using parties for trading purposes; for negotiations and all that. That nonsense must stop. Without necessarily hamstringing or imposing some undemocratic criteria, I believe that strict measures should be taken. These measures should begin even right now. INEC must work within the provisions of the law. I believe that there are ways of deregistering. The criteria laid down for registering new parties need to be reviewed or revisited in the interest of democracy.
When you have 90 parties, before you know what is happening, you would be having more than 100 and then, to make a mockery of the whole thing, it creates problem for the electorate. It creates problem for those who are vying for positions themselves and creates problem for the system.
So, I believe that there should be sanity in the system. You talked about the two-party system; that is deal. You could have, maybe, some one, two or three fringe parties or whatever, but the tendency is that you move towards some key leading parties and what is more important is you do not have parties that do not stand for anything. Today, you ask what some parties stand for and, you cannot say this is what they stand for. Beyond sloganeering; parties or this or that, when it is reduced to fundamentals; what separates one party from the other, there is nothing. That is why you see people jumping from one party to the other with reckless abandon, because to them, it doesn’t mean anything in any way; no difference.
And to the electorate, some of them don’t see any difference between them. This means that there is a serious problem somewhere. If you are moving from one party to the other, it means that there’s a fundamental disagreement between you and that philosophy. You are rejecting one philosophy and you endorsing another one, which is the way it should be; not just changing parties for the fun of it without any ideological motive.
You are not a member of the ruling party All Progressives Congress (APC). What would be your advice for the incumbent president who is also the president-elect, President Muhammadu Buhari, regarding the next political dispensation?
My advice is that he should consider the core values of the SDP and use as much of it in running this country. He should focus on such issues as security. First of all, the irreducible minimum condition for good living for Nigerians, the welfare of Nigerians, he must look very seriously at the rights of individuals, fundamental rights of individuals to ensure that they are guaranteed.
Then, he should focus on the issue of security and ensure that every part of this country is safe and every Nigerian has a sense of belonging to this country. There shouldn’t be any discrimination. He should unite the country and rule the country as the father of the nation.
The other area is that the Nigeria has tremendous potentials of meeting Nigerians’ need. He should look at the area of the economy seriously. Nigeria has good materials, people who are knowledgeable enough to transform the economy within six months. Let him utilise the very best in this society. The other area is that once the economy tackled, the issue of employment comes in. The youth must be at the front burner of what you would be doing for this country, because once we tackle the problem of unemployment, violence would be reduced and so many other issues that are now becoming worrisome for Nigerians will be tackled. When you reduce violence, you are already creating a new culture of development. You are creating an enabling environment that will make investors come; they know that their investments are safe, they know that they themselves are safe and those Nigerians who need to go to work, transact businesses and do certain things all over the country will move freely.
When you have created that enabling environment, there is peace, security and, of course, you are now tackling the issue of economy, infrastructural development, people should be able to live. There had been lost opportunities in the past; the rail system, power and all that would have to be tackled. And above all, he should demonstrate to the world and Nigerians, in particular, that he appreciates the fact that the key to peace and development and everything that we intend to achieve in this country is education. He must give education the pride of place. He must approach education frontally so that no Nigerian should not be deprived the opportunity of being educated, at least, up to secondary school level. It is when you have a bunch of illiterates all over the place that they are easily manipulated and can be used anyhow. Human life does not mean anything now.
So, education should be given a pride of place. When I say education, I mean quality education, so that people would know their rights; they would know what to do. They would acquire the technical skill to make themselves useful citizens and be able to stand on their own in future.
Of course, all these things we are talking about that the government of the day should do, I will extend to the governments of every state. Every state government must begin to save Nigeria from the prevailing deformities that are structural. When we talk about this structural rearrangement of the country, it starts from the local and state levels, for goodness’ sake. There is no reason governors of some states in the country, like Ebonyi, Kwara, Ekiti Gombe and so on, should be earning the same salary as governors of Kano, Rivers or Lagos states. That is where restructuring begins. All the states should take care of local governments, instead of sitting on whatever should to go to them. Let power devolve; they should be using their own initiatives. They should be doing certain things that would advance the cause and welfare of their people. They shouldn’t be looking at the federal level for everything and so much initiative have to be undertaken at those levels. It is very important. That is when we can have true federalism. That is when we’ll be able to move and achieve the goals of development for our people.