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2023: Tinubu playing dangerous politics — Ayu

Dr Iyorchia Ayu, former Senate President during the Third Republic (1992-93), who also served in three different portfolios as minister in the cabinet of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, speaks with Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, on the just concluded general election, giving his verdict on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and the likely outcome of the unfolding struggle for control of the next National Assembly and the soul of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) all of which revolve around his erstwhile ally in the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and now a leader of the APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, among other issues.

THE 2019 elections have been won and lost. What do you make of the whole process in terms of the electoral umpire and political actors’ fidelity to the rules?

Let me start from the campaigns leading to the elections. First of all, quite a number of the players in the various political parties didn’t articulate the issues affecting Nigeria.  Discussions on policy issues were very weak and incidentally apart from maybe the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP’s)  candidate and then the candidates of the smaller parties, who actually tried to concentrate on policy issues affecting Nigeria, the other candidates were more concerned with personality and  sensational issues and I believe that our politics will improve better if in future the electorate is presented with viable policy alternatives which will define the parties and define the candidates, so that they can have options and choose what they think is best for them and best for the country.

Secondly, as far as the umpire role was concerned, I must say that every electoral umpire in the history of our country has faced controversies and criticisms over its handling of elections. From Ovie Whiskey during the second republic down the line to aborted third republic with Professor Humphrey Nwosu and later to the other elections that we have had, I think we have made some progress. We tried to refine the processes up to the elections handled by Professor Attahiru Jega who introduced certain elements or aspects of technology. I think before that election, there were few other elections with high credibility and which were very well handled like that of Professor Nwosu during the Abiola presidential election when  we used what was called Option A4, whereby you lined up, you were counted, the votes were entered and every agent or every agency was given results at the polling booth and collation centres and down the line, everybody knew the results even before they were announced.

We deviated a bit from that, ran into all sorts of difficulties which we modified  during the period of the 2015 elections, which the Professor Jega’s team handled and I think a lot of improvements were made. During the 2014 National Conference, I headed a committee on political parties and electoral process and far reaching recommendations were made, some of which Professor Jega incorporated, including the issue of the Card Reader and all that.

But I think that we still have a lot of work to do. One, considering the registration of voters, in many parts of the country, particularly in the far North, you see a large pool of underage voters participating in the electoral process and you wonder what is happening. Where is the umpire to have allowed this type of registration process to take place? So that is a major flaw. Secondly, you still have a problem of rather than improving on the technological processes, we are still using manual papers, called ballot papers in the 21st century, where in actual fact you can simply have your voter cards with all your biometrics. You put it in a particular machine and the insignia of the political parties will come out and you simply place a finger and vote whom you want and that will be transmitted to everybody, to INEC headquarters, to the collation centres, to the party headquarters. Everybody will get it and it will be so transparent. So, you still have a primitive system of voting materials that are sometimes carted away and burnt by the thugs organised by political parties. So I think we are getting somewhere and if we really want to sustain this democracy, the umpire is very important.

A lot of people have criticised what the Mahmoud Yakubu led team has done. I don’t want to criticise Professor Yakubu as a person,as some have done. He was a young man who worked under me when I was teaching in the university. Very brilliant and decent fellow, well-educated with First Class in History. PhD in  Cambridge. So he has all the credentials, but I think what emerged in this election clearly was the question of a little deficit. He did well in certain areas, especially in some of the controversial state elections. But  the key one, the presidential election, it is very clear that something went wrong and that something that went wrong was human. It wasn’t a question of lack of technology. So, I think  if he has a little more strength of character, he could have immortalised himself by getting it right. But I think that strength of character was lacking along the line and he caved in to pressures which normally come, because every election conducted in this country, you have a lot of pressures mounting from firstly the government in power, the party in power and then also from the opposition.

But then the party in power has more resources and leverage on the electoral umpire. So I think that if we are to move forward also to improve on what we have achieved, even the processes of putting the team in INEC should be looked into. We made recommendations at the National Conference in 2014 and I believe if we apply some of the recommendations, we will get there. No matter how weak the democratic process is, I believe that it is  better than having a military ruler sending military administrators or governors like what happened in Rivers, Benue, Bauchi, Sokoto. Under a military regime, they will simply impose leaders on those people but, at least under a democracy they resisted and some of the states got the leadership they wanted.


Would you say that INEC needs to be more insulated from the Presidency to make it much more autonomous? Secondly,  would you say, with benefit of hindsight that some of the unpleasant events that trailed the process like snatching of ballot boxes would have been addressed if President Buhari had signed  the amended electoral Act into law which made provision for electronic transmission of results?

First, on the independence of INEC, I think INEC is to a certain degree independent. But we made recommendations on certain changes that should be made to make INEC truly independent so that it doesn’t yield to unnecessary pressures that come, particularly from a party in government. Unfortunately, those things weren’t implemented. One of which was the second issue you raised about electronic transmission.

I haven’t read the amended electoral Act which the president refused to sign, but I think that the key component is exactly what you said about the electronic transmission of data.  I believe it isn’t just electronic transmission of data that’s required. That’s important and I have already mentioned that, but also the instruments to carry out elections. The whole paper work, which is unnecessarily expensive for printing millions and millions of ballot papers, carrying them all over the place where people will go and snatch them, burn them and give our democracy a rather negative meaning, could all be modified by simply going into what is available today in the technological age in many countries.

So, I think that if we make those improvements, then definitely, I have seen the mood and spirit of commitment of Nigerians to have a working democracy where they can select the people who they truly believe in. I was in the field practically and I saw what happened. In a state like mine, Benue, I saw the electorate vote for President Buhari but rejected the leading person who was campaigning for President Buhari. So, it shows clearly that that was a very literate electorate and I think that Nigerians are ready to improve on democracy.

In 2015, Nigerians almost overwhelmingly said we wanted a change of leadership of this country and it was done. Whatever deficiencies you see, of course there were, in 2019, Nigerians clearly wanted a change and they voted for that change and their wish has been distorted and they aren’t happy about it. Definitely, I don’t believe that Buhari won the election. It is very clear to me that the will of Nigerians have been a little bit manipulated and I think that isn’t good for our democracy.

If we the politicians know that if you don’t do well, you will be voted out, we will also improve on our performance in government and that is the beauty of democracy and it has happened in some states in this current election, where sitting governors like in Bauchi were rejected.

So I believe that leadership shouldn’t use its enormous power to thwart the will of Nigerians, because it won’t lead to the growth of our democracy. We actually fought for this democracy; you know we had long years of military rule and the politicians came together and said, let us form big political parties across regional, religious and ethnic lines—parties that can mobilise the whole population. And that’s the reason we formed the Peoples Democratic Party in 1998. I believe that Nigerians should be allowed to genuinely choose their leaders.


What you are invariably saying is that the outcome of this election didn’t reflect the wishes of Nigerians?

Not everywhere. You have to know that there were many elections. You have election at the local level; you have National Assembly in the two chambers; you have governorship. In many cases, Nigerians chose who they wanted. In some cases and I believe it isn’t only in the presidential election alone, but in certain places also, what happened in Kano was an example of that kind of manipulation and thwarting the will of the Nigerian people. So the presidential election, definitely the PDP is contesting it in court . They have their facts and they will present them to Nigerians. While the court processes are taking place, Nigerians will also listen to these facts and judge and know whether exactly their own will has been expressed.


Are you hopeful of a positive outcome for the PDP from the presidential election tribunal, knowing fully that if we go by precedence, the outcome of presidential election has never been upturned in Nigeria?

There is always a first time and the Nigerian judiciary,  contrary to all the battering, all the insinuation, has demonstrated over and over that they are capable of being independent of asserting their competence as a professional body and this has been demonstrated recently in the Osun election which was overturned in favour of Senator [Ademola] Adeleke. So the fact that it has never happened doesn’t mean that it will never happen. The facts will be presented and the judiciary will make a statement. Of course, many such high level decisions, people take into consideration even the judiciary takes into consideration the necessity of political stability in the country. But if the facts are so overwhelming, I don’t see any reason why the judiciary shouldn’t have the courage to make a pronouncement that will be the first in Nigeria.


Let us look at the pattern of voting in the presidential election and the governorship that followed. The voting pattern changed from the APC to the PDP in the North suddenly after the presidential election.  Do you find that very instructive?

Well, apart from being a politician, I have a social science background. Having sat down to study factors responsible, sometimes national factors in one election, present themselves differently from local situations. Why you may have three, four candidates all agreeing on Buhari, three of them may never agree over themselves. So, you have a situation where that can happen. Secondly, it could also be a genuine situation where the presidential election was massively rigged in those areas and the people now learnt from that and they were more prepared and more determined to resist a scenario where the local elections would also be manipulated and they would be complete losers. So, if they lost at the federal level which is normally more alien and more far removed from the ordinary people, they may be determined that this one  (the governor)  is the one who is going to be with us directly  affecting our lives and we must make sure that it must be the person we want.

So there are possible scenarios in different situations in Bauchi, in Imo, in Oyo, in Kano, in Sokoto and, therefore, it may also reinforce the thinking among many Nigerians that truly the presidential election was manipulated. For instance, how come the governorship elections couple of weeks down the line are so different, in spite of the various use of state machinery to suppress them. People resisted it. So I think there are many factors and we need to study this. It is an area of interest for not just you journalists but the political scientists to help us unravel the factors available in one election and the other. So people should really begin to document these things, to help us to study and get certain areas of improvement.


Even as opposition figures are very cynical of the next four years of the APC administration, the government has continued to promise them what it called Next Level. What is your take on the quality of governance ahead of us?

A child that will be great shows promise from childhood. It explains why I started by saying that politicians should give us their track records. Political parties should give us their track records and programmes.

We have seen the rule of the APC in the past three to four years and it isn’t very encouraging. They themselves give you the figure and the necessary statistics that showed clearly that they haven’t done very well. They haven’t delivered on all the areas that they promised in 2015.  Not on security, not on economy, not on international relations, not on bringing in foreign investment. In fact, in the first year of Buhari over 80billion dollars left this country in foreign investment and these are things which the previous government had done and Nigerians suddenly became the leading economy in Africa. We are still classified as the leading economy but these government policies, even the body language [are discouraging]. You know an investor doesn’t come to invest simply because it is a good environment; he also looks at how they think you will behave tomorrow. You wake up one day and slammed 8billion dollars [fine] on MTN, that they have to pay. All the other companies will say, wait a minute, this can happen to us and they start packing their money out of the country.

You have Procter and Gamble that invested 300 million dollars factory in Ogun, after one year abandoned the factory and suddenly packed out of the country. You see today, so many companies packing out of the country—we also engaged in battle with one of the biggest banks in the world, HSBC—so the whole policy of the government actually presented a situation where Nigerians were worried.

You get your appointments all from one part of the country. You have the President,  Chief Justice of Nigeria, President Court of Appeal, Chief or Army Staff, Chief of Defence, head of Immigration, all from one part of the country and we are in a loose federation that needs to be strengthened. It doesn’t give people confidence. There is no president in the world who will have so many of its citizens slaughtered in a no-war situation and it will be claiming that it has done very well. And this [loss of lives] is expanding every day, including the president home state, including the celebrated Sir  Ahmadu Bello local government, Rabbah, including everywhere. And so the whole country is like we are in a war situation and Nigerians are really unhappy with this government. So if you ask me about how they will perform in the next four years, I believe they will do worse than what they did in the last three years and I believe that Nigerians will still reject APC in 2023.


Some people have argued that democracy doesn’t necessarily translate to economic growth and development, that representative government isn’t a sufficient condition for economic growth and they cite Nigeria as a classic example. What is your take?

I think we have to compare ourselves with a few emerging economies which started life like Nigeria in the 50s or early 60s.

In 1960, South Korea was a very backward country that just emerged from the Korean war that ended in 1953. It was so poor and a totally agrarian country that it used to envy countries like the Philippines. Between 1961 and 1983, South Korea has attained greatness through democracy. It may not be perfect but they turned it around and today’s South Korea is one of the leading players on the world stage. It has no resources whatsoever. Its population of about 51 million people is all the resource base they have. It is a hilly country with four rivers, sharp divisions between North and South with different levels of government and all that. But it has moved ahead because you don’t have military boys coming to distort the system from time to time.  You have India which got Independence in 1947, together with Pakistan as one country. They later separated. India went through a difficult democratic process, not very  perfect. In every election in India, several killings, maiming but today India is a world economy.  So, if you look at countries that have been ruled for a long time by military regimes they always have this problem: a drawback of not realising their true potential. I think one of Nigeria’s biggest problem isn’t the democracy. I think it is insufficient democracy. We started very well when we had democracy under  Pa Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, what was referred to as the glorious days of Nigeria’s development.

Suddenly, a few army officers who thought they knew better intervened in 1966.  Between 1966 to date, about 50 years, we have been dominated by about 50 army officers, whose background is very inadequate, most of whom didn’t finish secondary schools. Those from the North were picked in Form 5 or 4; they didn’t complete secondary school which explains the controversy over Buhari’s [secondary school] certificate and these are the people who became our dominant leaders from one head of state to the other. Even the efforts which people like Obafemi Awolowo and some Economics professors in Ibadan had put together, the development planning which South Korea did, Nigeria abandoned development planning. So, where South Korea had the first national development plan about the same time like Nigeria, the first national development in South Korea was 1962-66, the same thing we were doing here and it was our third national development plan which was being executed that produced the first mainland bridge, and many other economic programmes. Suddenly, we abandoned that and we want astray; we went with leaders who had no competence whatsoever to rule a country. So I believe that we had over 50 years of distortion in our development and in these 50 years, what has created the problem isn’t democracy but the absence of democracy. Even this last 16, almost 20 years of our democratic experiment, it may be weak, not perfect but the law of uneven development is showing itself because some states are going ahead, they are doing very well. States like Lagos are moving; state like Akwa Ibom that used to be very backward are moving, quite a number of states where the local development is  taking place. Then there are other states that are being ravaged and nothing is really happening. But on the whole, I think that we should continue with improving the democracy, continue with improving the quality of leadership because, so far, we haven’t escaped; we haven’t liberated ourselves from this 50 dangerous army officers who have held us hostage over the years. So, you hear the same names recycled and sometimes their personal quarrels are translated into national quarrels: General Olusegun Obasanjo, General Danjuma, General Babangida, General Buhari. Go and see their background. Are they qualified to run a country? They are not.


But don’t  you think the results of the presidential  election  won by Presidential Buhari has removed the grip of certain retired Generals on who gets what and how in the country? The candidate they didn’t support won an election. Is it a plus for the nation?

He is one of them. It doesn’t matter whether they backed him or not. When they were in power, they were always planning coups against each other. But what I am saying is that policy wise, they haven’t got much to offer the country. We were going to escape from them with the election of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua—highly-educated, my contemporary in the university. The guy who was in Chemistry but was attending all the various radical political discussions with us on a weekly basis. He had the preparation to be a leader and he showed it even within two years with all his health challenges. I think we need a break from this completely ill equipped and backward leadership that we have had over the last 50 something years to a modern leadership.

Take Professor Osinbajo, he is an example of somebody who can be a good president, completely different from his boss. He has no reason being vice-president under Buhari. He should be the president.


What is your take on the pronouncement by the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole,  that the party would not share power with the opposition in its next four years;  he actually claimed that in a presidential system of government, it is a winner takes all? Is that the empirical practice?

Let me say that there are many federations in the world. I have studied the history and practice of about 18 federations: the United States,  Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, several others plus Nigeria. Every federation has its own peculiarities. There is no standard federation. People make arrangement and keep adjusting to accommodate certain things in their development.

In Nigeria, unfortunately, we are a very heterogeneous society,  both in terms of nationalities, religions and other cultural factors. When we organise our politics, we try to build a consensus; we try to bring everybody on board. The moment you don’t build that consensus in Nigeria politics, there is going to be problem. The consensus, sometimes we say zoning. You are trying to accommodate. Sometimes, the US, as old as its democracy is, is still struggling with accommodating those tendencies, between blacks and ethnic nationalities, between social classes.

So, I believe that when a country or a political party that is ruling begins to imagine that we suddenly have arrived at that point when you ignore that consensus building, it is on the way to destroy the country. I believe that the APC, if it is true that they made such pronouncement, should re-examine their policies and try to understand the nature or the character of democracy and our federation and try to build a consensus. A time will come in our history when it will not matter where you come from. If you have president, vice-president, Senate president, all from one state, nobody will give a damn when we get to that level of development.

The US is another good example. For years, you will never have a situation where somebody is a presidential candidate in the North and he will not pick a vice-president from the South. But a time came when a presidential candidate from Arkansas picked a vice-presidential candidate next door in  Tennessee and people voted overwhelmingly. We shall get to that stage, but I don’t think we have got to that level and the APC shouldn’t lead us to the precipice.


You have been a former Senate president; should zoning be an issue in picking principal officers of both chambers of the National Assembly?

It is still within what I have said about building consensus. The National Assembly, the way it works, is a place where consensus building is the only way you can run not only the chambers, but run the country or formulate policies, because people are drawn from every community all over the country and everybody is fighting for his community.  So if the leadership is presented as so terribly skewed towards a certain parameters, then you are likely to run into difficulties not only in running the National Assembly but also in running of the country. You need the National Assembly to work very well with the president to have certain things done. And that’s why it worries me when we are being presented with a scenario where in the security architecture of Nigeria everybody is coming from one part of the country. Then you go back to the National Assembly, you are going to be presented with a similar scenario. If that happens, then the rest of Nigeria will feel that they are a conquered people and I believe they will fight for their liberation.


The immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, in a newspaper interview said there was no provision either in the APC  Constitution or the Nigerian Constitution that the North should cede power to the South in 2023. What do you make of that?

Let me say that I have answered  that question already. We will get to a position in our history where the place you come from won’t matter, where the combinations of elected persons won’t matter. We aren’t there yet. The second point I want to make is this. Every part of this country has competent material  to hold the highest office in this country. So what that means is that nobody should present a picture that only one part of the country has competent material to provide leadership for the country. It will be creating unnecessary divisions. Thirdly, I think the current government shouldn’t forget that those of them of Northern extraction, they alone could never have produced the national government.  They needed collaboration from people from the southern part of the country. It was that cooperation that made it possible for them to have a national victory.

The fourth issue I want to draw your attention to is that there is no unified North. The North has never been one unified entity. Even in the first republic, there was the Northern Peoples Congress, (NPC), which aggregated certain part of the North. You had NEPU, which represented certain part and certain ideological tendencies also of the North; you had the Borno Youth Movement which represented most of what you called Kanuri and the North eastern part of the country. You had the United Middle Belt Congress led by J.S Tarka. Geographically, put together you called all this North because the British put all these people together and said they were one entity. The NPC then which tried to foster a sense of political dominance came up with a slogan, one North. But that wasn’t true. It was false. There has never been one North.

So, if you think there is a unified North that you can then mobilise and give you victory, and ignore the rest of the country, the rest of the North which doesn’t believe in that philosophy will join with the rest of the country and defeat you.  So, I am waiting to see how they will actualise what they are talking about. If it isn’t just wishful thinking, because I believe and I have already told you that there are many people the country, the South has abundant manpower, very educated, very capable people. The vice-president is a typical example of a competent southerner.  There are many people in the East and of the minority extractions in the North and in the South. So those who make this kind of statements don’t understand the complexity of the Nigerian situation.

For those who collaborate with them, I call them happy slaves. A happy slave is he who is a slave, even if he is asked to go, he will say, what do I do with freedom? So they are happy slaves to think that all they need is to support them. But there are others who aren’t prepared to be happy slaves.


But with the startling revelations from the likesof Babachir Lawal, don’t you think the plan by the South-West, orchestrated by people like Bola Ahmed Tinubu to succeed Buhari will be frustrated in 2023?

Bola Tinubu is my brother, an excellent man, politically clever and hardworking. He has been very successful in his private life. But I think like I said in one of my earlier interviews, he  has aligned himself with the most backward forces in Nigeria’s political history. Rather than liberal and progressive wing of the North, this right wing group he is working with will soon turn against him and destroy him.

His ambition which is becoming blind will contribute to that self-destruction. He will lose most of what he has gained as a political leader. If he has my opinion, I will advise him to continue to play the role of a political leader, but not aspiring to be a government leader. He should promote and support the candidature of Yemi Osinbajo, who is obviously an intelligent and competent person.

Finally, the philosophy of I or it must be me won’t serve Bola Tinubu.


Finally, if you are to meet Buhari one-to-one, what will you tell him?

Well, I had the opportunity to sit down, not one to one but directly with Buhari when he was celebrating Abiola and June 12 and  I told him clearly what I felt was wrong with his thinking, his mindset, what I thought was wrong with his administration. So, it depends on the issues at stake. If I sat down one on one with Buhari, I will still tell him my mind: what I think about Nigeria and where I think we should be going.  Nigeria is the only country I have. I have no other passport. So I can’t allow anybody to come and destroy it. So I will still tell him what I think is the right thing to do because what we need is social justice for everybody, irrespective of where he or she comes from. We need serious economic development because God has placed us in leadership position, not just Africa but the rest of the world. We have the potential to be one of the biggest economies in the world before 2050. So we need to harness all of our resources, especially human resources which are the most important resource. Korea has demonstrated it; China is demonstrating it. So many countries in the developing economy have demonstrated it, particularly those we call Asian Tigers. Small port cities like Singapore are showing it. So I will tell him that you don’t understand Nigeria. Leave the stage and allow Nigerians to determine their fate.


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