Professor Tunde Adeniran is by all standards an accomplished statesman with variegated experience in public service, international relations and so on. He led the Mass Mobilisation for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) in 1993; was appointed Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany between 2004 and 2007 and later, Minister of Education. The scholar-diplomat-politician gives an assessment of INEC’s performance in the elections, the task before the incoming government, among other things, in this interview with DARE ADEKANMBI.
The 2023 elections have come and gone. Winners have emerged and those aggrieved are filing petitions before tribunals. What is your assessment of the elections, the performance of INEC and the conduct of Nigerians generally?
On my assessment of INEC, I would say there preparations were very elaborate and the expectations were high. By virtue of the enabling law, that is the Electoral Act 2022 and other supporting regulations, one expected an improvement over what used to be. And in fairness, there appeared to be a deliberate attempt to make sure that there is an improvement over the previous exercise. Unfortunately, it turned out that one could easily conclude that INEC promised more than it delivered because there are two other factors that INEC did not take into consideration. One was the readiness of supporting staff, that is, those in the field to raise the level and perform as expected so that in the final analysis, all the expectations would be met. There were compromises here and there on the field and these detracted from the credit that should have gone to INEC. But this is not to say that efforts were not made by the leadership of INEC to ensure that not only that the votes counted, but that there was fairness and credibility in the overall conduct of the elections. Apart from the staff that were not taken into consideration, the Nigerian people themselves, when you look at what happened during the elections, you would see that the people were not fully ready to liberate themselves from the anti-democratic forces. You see people who are ready to sell their votes and this shows that such people do not attach sufficient importance to their freedom of choice. In other words, they prefer to sell not only their rights to make a choice of who will govern them, they, through that, are selling their conscience and creating more problems for the coming generation. Again, still talking about the voting populace, you can see that instead of moving away from the ugly past, there is some degree of reincarnation of the past in a worst form, where you now see violence and people believing that they need to be violent in order to win the votes of the people. Some people made themselves readily available to be used for such purpose. It is not good for democracy and for the cultural consideration of democratic process and for the overall development of Nigeria. It is not good because Nigeria is like a mirror African states are watching and the ugly picture that they see is not what they were expecting and of course the rest of the world is not amused at all. They are embarrassed that we are not rising up to the level that they expect us to have reached. They expect Nigeria to be far much better than what we did. We can only hope that the culprits responsible for giving Nigeria a bad name and for undermining the democratic processes and sabotaging the will of the people will be held responsible and dealt with. Once they are not allowed to go scot-free, then it will serve as a lesson in the future.
The electoral geography of the country showed that the various presidential candidates won in their respective areas of origin and the winner and president-elect, Senator Bola Tinubu, won with less than 10m votes and winning only in 12 out of 36 states. What does this suggest?
The implication is very clear. It shows that we need to re-examine and go back to our constitution. Indeed the vibrancy of our political process led to what you have just described, when there is what one could call very heated and hot competition among the contending forces. In other words, people see in the leading candidates different qualities and they follow them. As a result of that, you can see them in their running neck and neck in terms of influence in a number of states. But at the same time in the final analysis, a winner must emerge and one emerged. If we had had a situation in which we did not have more than two key parties, we would not have had that type of situation in which we had the president not scoring up to 40 something per cent of the votes. This is not to say what was done by the umpire was not the right thing because you have to base the thing on the rules and regulations and the Electoral Act governing the conduct of the elections. That is why some people even said maybe what ought to have happened is that some of these parties should have negotiated some arrangements or some alliance formation even before the elections were held so that we do not have many splinter groups or parties presenting presidential candidates on their own. In other words, we would have had a situation in which the candidate would have scored much higher than they scored. But when you have those parties contending at very high level and at the same time having the weight that they carried, of course, you are not likely to have a dominant party dictating the support base.
Some have read danger signs into the outcome of the election saying the major candidates won in their areas of origin and that religion factored heavily in the election, a development they said is unhealthy for national integration.
It is dangerous and certainly it is not healthy for our politics and for the wellbeing of the Nigerian commonwealth. We had grown beyond where we are now. We seem to be retreating into our shells, shells of ethnicity, religion and other parochialism. It is sad and very unfortunate that many people are basing their support on ethnic or religious calculations which is not good. We have to look at candidates and their capacity for accountability, capacity to liberate us from the throes of underdevelopment, particularly from those forces that have not allowed us to take maximum advantage of the opportunities that we have. There is no country in the world that is as blessed as Nigeria. Yet, you see our people running out of Nigeria simply because we have not had what it takes to make the Nigerian environment conducive and provide what is needed for them to be able to wait and then realise their potential. Nigerians are very resourceful, very patriotic and talented. All that they need is the enabling environment, the guidance and the leadership to make sure there is accountability. This country can provide jobs for Nigerians and even bring in outsiders to also help in exploring and exploiting the resources that we have. It is because there is this heated politicking that people believe that the only means of livelihood is to go into politics. With the digital world that we are in now and the fact that Nigerians are so ingenious, they could become the capital for Africa and beyond. You see what the Indians are doing for their country and you see how China and others are doing so well. The situation in Nigeria has become so bad that the calculations of individuals range from what can benefit them as individuals, as members of either a religious group or ethnic nationality and others. This is not fair to the Nigerian nation. This country can grow and consolidate and become the model for other countries in Africa and, of course, the envy of the external world. We were on track decades ago. But now, we have derailed. Only the right leadership can take us back. We are admonishing our people to continue to pray and Nigerians are praying. You see them in churches and mosques and in different places praying and God has been so kind to us. That is why we have not gone under. But we seem to be overstretching our luck. We should now do the needful as Nigerians and as patriots to ensure that indeed we go back to the original track of brotherhood, of love and of making everybody feel wanted. There is no way, in an environment of hatred, unnecessary envy and in an environment in which we weaponise the differences among the people, that progress will be achieved. It is not right. It will not lead us anywhere, but to disaster.
What do you see as the immediate task for the incoming administration?
I see three things as more or less the task before the incoming president. We are in a terrible situation as far as the security of the land is concerned. Security must be a priority for the incoming government so that people will be free to move around and carry out their legitimate duty. The second thing is tackling the economy. People are talking about the currency issue which is part of the economic disaster that we are into. We are in a deep mess in terms of our economy and once we can get it right, we will be moving in the right direction. Apart from focusing on security and economy another thing is to realise and appreciate the fact that there are two things that are connected without which you cannot get those two things right. One, the right pegs in right holes. In other words, he should get the most competent of all teams imaginable to run the affairs of this country from top to bottom. Our education system will have to be taken care of and once we do not get it right at this level, then nothing will change. We do not need people who do not appreciate the essence of service. Service by the leadership means sacrifice, the ability and the willingness to be able to make sacrifice by putting others before yourself and by ensuring that things are done in the national interest and not in the personal interest. Greed must be out of it and people must be subjected to the highest level of probity because people have seen and continue to see public office as where you go and loot. It has gone beyond even manipulating certain things for personal gains. Barefaced looting will have to be stopped in the public sector and this will also go to the private sector where we now have corruption too rearing its head and eating deep into the system. If we want to move in the right direction, the incoming administration has to sit down and ensure these priorities are well handled.
By the time we put the right people in the right places, every difficulty will be handled appropriately. Once the economy is being handled appropriately and, of course, the president is focusing on using the intellect, the education to drive the system, nobody will tell anybody that we need to restructure the system because it will come naturally. In order for you to succeed in handling the security situation in the country, you have to restructure. In order for you to handle the economy properly, you have to restructure. In order for you to even handle the education sector that will produce the manpower needed in the country, we need to ensure that the youths are gainfully employed. And to ensure there is equity, justice and fairness and accountability, there will have to be restructuring. Otherwise, we will be running the same system merely using new faces and new hands and that will lead this country nowhere.
The argument about whether it was right for INEC to declare and return Tinubu elected has come up again in the petition filed by the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, who is saying Tinubu failed to score 25 per cent of the votes in FCT as required by law. Are we back in the era of 12 two thirds of the Second Republic?
I am not a lawyer. Those who are versed in jurisprudence can look at it and we can only comment on it as laymen. It has got to a state at this point to really get the intendment of the constitutional provision and we need legal luminaries to fully interpret it. It has gone beyond what we can just make a pronouncement on. But we as laymen will see it from one angle and then of course, by the time it now gets to the court of law to really look into it, then you will now have to bring in some experts in language to really analyse and look it. You bring experts in semantics and syntax and they will break it down and they will be able to advise about what is meant and so on.
As I always tell people, in situations like this, the easiest way is usually to go back to the source, the root. There would be some drafts worked on by those who drafted the constitution at the time they drafted it. There were some debates leading to the conclusion on the number of states to be won by a presidential candidate and whether it is compulsory for the candidate to win 25 per cent of the votes in FCT. Once you go back and you see the debate that went into it, then you get the real thing. But anything short of that, you will have to build what you are going to accept on the judgment of the jury which will also be based on the legal gymnastics over those issues. You can trust Nigerian lawyers, very brilliant and resourceful and capable. You will see a lot and hear a lot when it gets to that level. Meanwhile, INEC has made a pronouncement and until challenged in court, the pronouncement remains what it is.
President MuhammaduBuhari, on the eve of the governorship and state houses of assembly election, assented to some constitution amendment proposals. Do you see this as the way to go for things to get better in the federation?
I believe that there is so much to do and I see some of those things as the real beginning because there is so much to do and some of those things ought to have been done a long time ago. Under President Goodluck Jonathan, there was a national confab and when the delegates met in 2014, the outcome of the conference would have led to a number of executive orders that would have lifted the country up the more and solved some of the problems that are debilitating against the growth and development of the country. But he did nothing about it. So, Buhari is to be commended for what he has done. By the time the new president takes over, so many things will be looked into and whatever can be done administratively will be done in national interest. And whatever constitutional amendment that will still have to take place will take place. When you have people who are not self-seeking, the various states will know that the national interest is paramount and they will be able to cooperate and not just ground everything and say unless and until it favours their states, they are not going to support it. So much has to be done to put this country back on track and I hope and pray those things will be done on time too because time is running out on Nigeria. By the time the right things are done, the agitation for one thing or the other will reduce.
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