National chairman of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Yabagi Yusuf Sani, in this interview by Deputy Group Politics Editor, TAIWO AMODU, says Nigeria operates a one-party state despite the multiplicity of party platforms in the polity.
Your party didn’t put up a good show in the 2019 elections, despite your claim that it was the party to beat. What actually happened?
We are a new party. When we came on board, 2019 was our first outing. Even at that, we gave a good account of ourselves in the sense that of all the 77 parties that participated in the election, we came very effectively number three because we were everywhere. What worked against us most is the kind of environment that we have during elections in Nigeria, which hasn’t changed: the environment of no level-playing ground. The government in power always uses the paraphernalia of the office- the security outfits, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and all the other government tools available to it- without any concern for what somebody else may think.
The highest level of impunity is deployed against the opponent and, in this particular case, we didn’t have any governor or any state. So, everything was stacked against us. But we thought that from the pronouncements of the INEC and from what Mr President himself was saying, there was going to be a change of scenario in the sense that they would allow a level-playing ground for everybody. But that didn’t happen. We thought before then that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was going to be signed so that the use of the smartcard reader and other electronic facilities will be used such that results of elections as they were concluded at where they took place would have been transmitted to the central server in the INEC and in fact, would be known to people themselves because that is what happen in the developed nations.
Are you saying the process was skewed against you or that you were rigged out?
Of course, we were rigged out. They know and we know but there is nothing anybody could do. The question you should have asked is that why didn’t we go to court. The fact is that the court, as we have it today, is also battling with the same thing as we as political parties not in government are facing namely, the impunity of the sitting government. Even the judiciary is under that situation too; it is also not allowed to exercise its powers in the way it is enshrined in the constitution of this country where we have separation of powers. What we have in Nigeria isn’t an ideal situation where parties like ADP can really aspire to be what it wants to become. That is why you have a lot of heat in the polity; that is why things aren’t peaceful. When you don’t allow peaceful change to take place, what are you calling for? You are calling for anarchy.
You are blaming INEC for the poor performance of your party and the other new parties, but INEC, in its appraisal, said some of you don’t have the spread and strength you ascribe to yourself in the media. It even said it would want the power to deregister some of the new parties…
Well, it already has the powers. Which one is it asking for again? It is in the constitution and the Electoral Law that if a party doesn’t meet certain conditions- you don’t have any member in the National Assembly or the House of Assembly, that party should be deregistered. It is for the INEC to exercise the power. But we don’t have what you can call an ideal situation for things to be done: A party would have been able to build on its achievement in the last elections, but the scenario you have in Nigeria is that somebody will come to your party, you spend your money and resources and the moment the man is declared the winner, maybe three months later, he is on his way to another party.
Don’t you think you are shifting blame?
If somebody is denied ticket, that person has not in any way utilised the resources of the party. What he wanted to do was to contest on the platform of a party and if you are denied, the constitution says you should be given the right to aspire elsewhere, as far as your aspiration is within the law. That isn’t the same thing as somebody who won election on the platform of the party and defected. There is nowhere in the world where it is a crime that people should not be allowed. But that is different from where you have contested and won and you, without any pressure, just decide to move. So, if the INEC gives you the Certificate of Return, you should give it to the party because the INEC doesn’t recognise the individual but the party. Then if you leave the party, the INEC will say, ‘ok the party should make arrangement for a primary’ where somebody will emerge to continue to represent the party and benefit from its victory.
At the level of the Inter Parliamentary Advisory Council (IPAC), have you conveyed your position to the INEC on this defection which you find unconscionable?
Of course, we did. We interacted with them; we have told them. You mean we will keep quiet, a young party that has paid so much money and time and is celebrating the victory of just one member, at least, in the parliament and thinking of how to increase the number only for it to wake up to hear that the only one elected member it has just defected to another party? How? Why? We won; it is not you. You are representing us there and now you say you are going. Going where? Even the court of law should know that this is not right, but that is what is happening in Nigeria. The INEC claims it is the one managing the affairs of the parties, but how do we grow democracy? You are introducing a one-party system.
How can you be talking about a one-party system in a polity, where we have over 77 political parties registered for the last election?
It is a one-party system because the INEC itself is under the whims and caprices of the government of the day. There is nothing you can do to get the INEC to change or say that it is not going to listen to the sitting president. So effectively, what you have is a one-party system because other parties can’t aspire to win the elections in this country. It is the same thing as a one-party system. The only time you are recognised is if you are in the All Progressives Congress (APC). If you win, you are sure that your mandate won’t be frustrated or hijacked from you. If you don’t want democracy, tell us you don’t want democracy. Let us know that we are in a military regime.
You accused the INEC of being tied to the apron of the presidency but the electoral body has accused majority of the parties of falling short in terms of national spread and not having substantive national working committee and that some of you don’t have visible national secretariats. How do you reconcile this?
That is an aberration and it is something that the INEC should sanction. They have the right to be sanctioned if you don’t comply with the INEC rules and regulations. Of course, you have no right to say you are a political party because you are a creation of the INEC which gave you the mandate. So, if you don’t comply with its rules and regulations, of course, it can take action on that. In the ADP, we have a compliance committee that oversees whatever we are doing in the party. There are parties like us that fulfill all these things you are talking about. We have our headquarters here; we have account with the INEC; we have everything they want and, as far as humanly possible, we do it.
The last time the INEC chairman was addressing the press when we had an interactive session with him, our party was the only one that had submitted our account to the INEC: the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the APC had not done as at that time. At every point in time, we are in compliance with what the INEC wants us to do. We are not just a political party in the season of elections; we are to deepen democracy and to ensure that we bring people to this platform so that they can aspire to whatever they want to be. Those in that category have no business being called political parties; they should automatically be shown the way out.