How Buhari erred on Kogi, Bayelsa guber polls —Olajide, YCE Secretary
With ripples triggered by the recent governorship elections held in Bayelsa and Kogi states still spreading, the General Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr Kunle Olajide, speaks on the question of leadership, electoral reforms, the era of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among other issues, with Group Politics Editor, KUNLE ODEREMI.
I think we should be preoccupied with arresting the continued slide in the conduct of elections in the country, with a lot of stakeholders expressing strong reservations on the polls held in Kogi and Bayelsa states on November 16. What is your thought on the exercise?
I’m disturbed by the attention to enacting laws and laws about violence and so on in Nigeria. Our problem is not of laws. Our problem is about the mindset of the majority of Nigerians in high places translating into perverse institution of the Nigerian Police. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) mobilised about 30,000 policemen to a state. He had earlier promised that he suspected there was going to be violence and that the police were adequately prepared for it. But we saw that 48 hours after, he said those who perpetrated the crimes were fake policemen in uniform and they were not apprehended. So, you can see that it is not a matter of laws. So for me, with the National Assembly enacting laws, amending the law is not the issue. The issue really is absent institutions. People have no iota of sincerity. I think we should use every opportunity we have to let the authorities know that they are deceiving and fooling us.
Moreover, I want to warn them that the fate that befell the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) woman leader in Kogi State is awaiting them. They will not die in the National Assembly or in the Presidential Villa. They will come out of the places at the expiration of their tenures or whatever and the same fate would await them if they don’t change the mindset of the Nigerian public by enacting laws. I believe you know why I talk this way. When I read newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio that the Presidency, the National Assembly or whatever has said or promised this or that after an incident that could have been averted, I ask myself, ‘isn’t prevention better than cure?’ When you mobilised 30,000 people and you now seem to have rest of mind that the police are now serious, then, the same police are using helicopters and so on and watching hoodlums harassing and killing people. It gives me a lot of headache, it is agonising. I don’t know how others feel about such nauseating and curious situations. For how long shall we continue to deceive ourselves?
Aren’t members of the political class guilty of the same offence? Are you trying to exonerate them from such abuse of power, perversion of values and disregard for human lives?
I am going to talk about you and I as well. It is not the political elite or class alone. It is also about our docility and failure to tell the truth to power. I reiterated recently that the both sides of the divide are guilty of the violence. It is the one that collaborated or had the support of the security agencies of government and the executive authorities that won. If it were the other way too, it would have gone the other way. So, I agree that we are all guilty, but leadership should take the greater part of the blame because they are in control of our resources and they have powers to direct us to whatever direction they are misdirecting us, they are showing bad examples and so on. That’s all! All of us, including you and me, are guilty.
What should be done so that the country can free itself from the quagmire?
Number one, there must be a change of attitude, a change of mindset. The change of mindset on the part of the leadership is the most crucial and then, the followership too. That is why I’m saying that the leadership must realise that they are leaders for a specific tenure, their tenure will lapse and they will become ordinary citizens like you and me. if we drum that into their ears and they see that they themselves know that can be victims of what they are doing now in later years, you must make them realise that. So, they have a duty now to say that something must be done. Then, you and I have a duty that we must keep reminding these people. For example, I’m excited about what the Zamfara State House of Assembly has done. There should be nothing like severance allowance and pension for people who come to seek office. So, these are things that all of us must condemn and campaign against vehemently as followers. Where we find something that is good and commendable, in fact, I have made up my mind; I’m going to write a letter of congratulations to the speaker of the Zamfara State House of Assembly for the step the Assembly took over the matter and expeditiously too.
Isn’t the House equally guilty? I’m talking about the Assembly as an arm of government, an institution independent of the executive arm? Why are the lawmakers just realising their complicity in an act of disservice to the citizenry? Was it not the same Assembly that passed the law?
Well, I think they only had a change of heart. I agree but if they had a change of heart, let us commend them. So, let others, states where similar enactment and practice follow suit: Lagos, Rivers, among others should have a change of heart. What my own religion teaches me is forgetting the past. There was a report in the dailies on the billions of naira that go into such payments to the beneficiaries of the law across the states in a year. Imagine if such funds are spent on primary schools that are begging for attention. We will all benefit from such wise investment. There will be peace in the society. Our children will go to school. There will be jobs for the young ones, the rate of insecurity will be reduced and everyone will move freely without fear of threats to life and property. It is just a handful out of 200 people going away with hundreds of billions. So we must really project and promote this one. We should have a rethink and change of heart. We are all guilty but the leadership takes much of the blame because you and I do not control power and the resources of the country. So, it is something we have to do, we can’t continue this way. I watched with disbelief, the IG, when he said shamelessly that that fake policemen in uniform, where you had 30,000 of your men on ground, were responsible for the brigandage in Kogi State. It is shameful.
So, you think the man should have resigned now?
The authorities would have removed him if it were in other climes. Again, I saw the president having a handshake with the winner of the governorship election in Bayelsa State, David Lyon, in the Villa. I would not have such a handshake with the man, I would bluntly tell him that I was not excited because of the negative things I heard and witnessed about the election. I would tell him that before I could congratulate anybody, the election petition tribunals would have finished their cases, up to the Supreme Court.
In view of all you have said in respect of the conduct and outcome of the elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, what will you say the trend portends for subsequent elections in the country?
Nobody can predict it. I can assure you that bombs will be used from even government aircraft/helicopters if nothing is done now to restore sanity. I have been saying we must de-monetise the political offices. If money is not involved, there will not be acts of arson, as those behind such violent acts would not have money to hire thugs and other criminal elements to cause mayhem since there would be nothing at stake or enticing, especially money. As regards 2023, if there are states that follow the latest action taken by the House of Assembly in Zamfara State, including the Federal Government and its agencies, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), constituency projects, among others. I want to congratulate the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) on what it’s doing. If it pursues it consistently, in the next 12 months, a lot of charlatans will run out of politics, because it will no longer be attractive. I do not want to name names, but imagine a former member of the Senate installing four transformers in his residence, in the name of constituency project. A lot of them locate the so-called constituency projects in their own premises. Therefore, you and I have a duty as well. It is not only the leadership, we have a duty. We need to de-monetise political offices. Right now, voters hardly trust government because they prefer to take N5,000 and sell their votes because those going into government are going there with the mindset to steal. But, the moment we are able to achieve a paradigm shift in mindset, the lifestyle of the political office-holders will automatically change and send a positive signal to the voters. That is the beginning.
Look at the man that was said to have won the governorship election in Bayelsa State. Do you think he has the capacity expected of the chief executive of a state on budget and its presentation? Do you think he has the capacity to comprehend the intricacies of governance, expenditure and administration? I was shocked to see Timi Sylva stand by his side. Nobody needs to tell him that it was unbefitting of him. So, let us do our own best so that it will be on record for posterity to see and appreciate. We may be a lone voice in the midst of 200 million humans, but some people who get to see what we are doing will appreciate the courage. It is sad and unfortunate that politics has become a cash-and-carry enterprise.
What kind of reforms would you advocate in the quest to clean up the nation’s electoral system?
There is no doubt about the need for a holistic electoral reform. There must be transmission of election results electronically from the polling booths to the data base. There should be no further argument on the issue now. There are other amendments we need to carry out. We must deploy technology if we are serious about getting it right in our elections. We know it is often difficult to domesticate even wild dogs, there has to be a total change in the set-up at the electoral commission. The existing system can’t get us anywhere, as a leopard can’t change its spots.
During the general election, the country is always completely closed down with economic consequences. What will you suggest as ways to reduce such losses in future elections?
It is easy to address the issue, by de-monetising political offices: National Assembly, ministers, governors, and so on, there will be less heated competition. The lifestyle of those holding such offices will change in their various constituencies. The people will come to appreciate that such people no longer have money to spend, that they now depend on their personal money to render services to the people and the community. Therefore, there will be less tension and friction. I recall that for two days, my people converged on my residence appealing to me to accept a ministerial appointment under the late President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic. I said no, that I was comfortable with my medical practice. The former military governor of the old Oyo State, Major General David Jemibewon (retd), is alive. He is my friend. He approached me to be made a commissioner under his administration. I turned down the offer.
Today, professors apply and beg to be made commissioners. So, when you make political offices less attractive and people think they can have their peace, doing what they are trained to do as professionals, elections will hold smoothly. In the United Kingdom, you would hardly know when elections are going on apart from the fact that you will see posters everywhere. Everybody goes about his business on the election day. You walk in at your own convenient time unlike the situation in Nigeria where voters rush to queue at polling units as early as 5.00 a.m. It is because people don’t have jobs. It is a combination of factors to make elections less expensive. I agree with you the hours that we waste, even in the deployment of security personnel, who should be doing something else. But the present leaders are self-serving. They think that they are securing their future, not realising that they themselves can be set ablaze in their homes after they would have left office. This is something I want Nigerians to consistently highlight that political office is not forever, it has a limited tenure and the moment you leave the place, you become vulnerable like anybody else. Therefore, now that you have the opportunity, lay a solid foundation so that you can have somewhere to retire to in the future.
I remember when a former governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Odili, wanted to seek for Presidency. I was part of his team and I always imagined when we were caught in gridlock one day. He would find himself in such condition without dispatch riders to clear the way. When I recalled the message after he had left office, he said I was right. I think people should realise that one day, they would have to leave the comfort zone called Government House because the office would have so mystified you. When you leave office, you become totally demystified. In fact, you are worse than an ordinary person, because the ordinary citizen does not enjoy the luxury of escorts, security guards and other privileges of office. In a nutshell, I have never seen any election worse than what we saw on November 16. We must do something now to address the anomalies because of the 2023 elections.
Similarly, I advise that (ICPC boss) Professor Owasanoye pursue the matter on the constituency project to a logical conclusion. He should not be intimidated by anybody, he must not look back at all. Also, all of us must be steadfast in the campaign against the gross abuse of power and privileges by those who hold political offices. Let other states and the Federal Government and the National Assembly take a similar action taken by the state House of Assembly. Let everybody seek legitimate means of livelihood. Let them leave politics alone. What we learnt in school is that there should be less of government in people’s affairs and more of the private sector but here in Nigeria, it is still more of government presence. When you are in the United States or Britain, you won’t even know where the office of any public office-holder is located. You go about your own business. You won’t see the secretariat of government with people milling around. Everybody is on his own. You will walk past the office or official residence of a top government functionary without caring a hoot. They don’t even want to see you in their office, perhaps, the only person you will come across is a security personnel at his duty post.
I was telling my son the other day that the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, lived in Oke Bola in Ibadan. And any time those of us who were the students’ union executives wanted to see him, we would get to the place in the morning and he would ask us to come into his residence before he would go to his office. Chief Awolowo was that accessible. But the current political office-holders are shielded in cage. I once had cause to go the Government House, Agodi in Ibadan about six years ago or so. From the main gate, you are subjected to serious scrutiny and frisking. Since then, I have stopped going to the place. I do not want to see any governor for anything, I am not looking for a government contract, neither am I seeking for a political appointment. Let me cite the case of Second Republic governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, as an example in Ilupeju. He still lives there. There was no fence around that house until recently. I had access to bedroom and sitting room of Jakande, his lifestyle has not changed, he maintains a Spartan lifestyle, which has not only endeared him to millions of people in Nigeria but also outside the country, whereas there are some individuals who served as governors for eight years and cannot move freely on the streets today. More than 35 years after Jakande left office as governor, the people are still celebrating him and his legacies of visionary leadership, transparency and accountability. His style of leadership remains the benchmark and template in the country because he succeeded in raising the bar as governor.
Let’s begin to further highlight such examples as role models, to prick the conscience of our people. Imagine a former governor asking for N10 million as upkeep allowance in a state that is unable to pay the N30,000 minimum wage. Do they believe we are incapable of thinking and you could do that in black and white and sign it. That goes to show that they do not have regard for all of us as the citizens of this country.