By Chukwudi Nweje
Dr. Olukayode Ajulo, lawyer, arbitrator, and civil rights activist is the former National Secretary of the Labour Party. In this interview, he speaks on the matters Nigerians should consider at the polls next year and other national issues.
Ahead of the general election, the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are each dealing with internal issues. While the APC is facing the backlash of its Muslim-Muslim ticket, PDP is rocked by the calls for the resignation of the National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu. These issues may affect the outcome of the polls, what do you think?
The truth is that in every political contest centred on the struggle for power, a crisis cannot be wished away; what matters is the ability to contain, and manage it. The reason we constantly experience political instability in this country is that most political players cannot honour simple mutual agreements. The APC Muslim-Muslim ticket issue is solely an affair between the APC and sections of the public who think it poses insensitivity to the plight of Christians and other religions. But remember, there are counterarguments in that regard. In a glaring opinion, the APC, as a party is not affected by this because, one of the virtues of Christians is to be tolerant and patient, therefore a significant part of the party is still very much working together. On the other hand, the internal wrangling within the PDP is really an albatross to its victory in the 2023 presidential election; the whole issue is in the public glare. And it is no secret. The crisis in the PDP is about the zoning agreement between the Northern and Southern structures of the party over the Presidential standard bearer and National Chairmanship position of the party. Gov Nyesom Wike is the only arrowhead of the agitation for the implementation of that agreement but the struggle has many parts. Obviously, there are many southern members of the party who want Ayu to resign to balance the party structure, and there are those who want Ayu to continue in office. It is their party affairs and some of us can only watch, learn and comment from the professional and public angles.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is facing its own crisis over the nomination of some alleged partisan individuals for consideration as commissioners in the Commission, what is your take?
When dealing with public issues, one must be careful not to allow emotions to dictate the tune of the argument. Everyone has political interests but not everyone is partisan. One can truly be a member of a political party if he or she holds a membership card of that political party. For example, I have a political interest in the person of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, for a better Nigeria but that does not make me partisan because I do not have a membership card of the APC, even despite serving the party both in a political and professional capacity. Recall that I voluntarily resigned as the National Secretary of the Labour Party in principle, I am simply a voter and one who can influence others to vote. Now back to your question, these nominees will appear before the Senate and if the Senate finds anything partisan about them, they will be disqualified. It has happened before, but we cannot just disqualify people because of their individual interests. However, whoever is nominated for such a position is expected to serve in the interest of the country.
Some of the Resident Electoral commissioners to be replaced had distinguished themselves in that position, do you think it is wise to bring in greenhorns as commissioners at this critical hour with the elections just five months away?
I beg to disagree on this, though, you need the experience to carry out good jobs, but this INEC assignment is not rocket science. Everything about INEC is in the public, and everyone knows how elections are conducted in Nigeria. We all know the lapses to be filled and wrongs to be corrected. These nominees are people with appreciable experiences in their chosen careers, their ability to adapt and work excellently is what counts, and I am sure INEC training cannot be as rigorous as the training they had encountered in their jobs. Also, remember the nominees are to occupy the positions of commissioners, just like the Chairman of INEC; these people are career staff who are expected to carry out day-to-day activities. Their jobs are more like helping the organisation to design and implement a free, fair, and credible election based on what they have experienced as members of the public. Or how do you then describe the ad-hoc staff you meet at the polling units? These people only have less than two weeks of INEC training and we still entrust INEC’s sensitive materials into their hands.
There are calls for the creation of Electoral Offences tribunals but if you look critically at some of the actions that may be deemed to constitute an electoral offence, you will agree that they are already offences under the extant laws; why for instance is it difficult to prosecute altering of election result figures as a crime of forgery or false declaration as perjury?
I think the tribunal bill before the National Assembly is a good one, and I must confess I am particularly interested in the tribunal, and I have written severally about it and good enough, one of the INEC National Commissioners, Dr. Mustapha Lekki share the same interest with me. The tribunal I will not say much is imperative.
A recent report rates Nigeria as the second most terrorised country after Iraq, what is your reaction to that?
It is obvious that Nigeria is facing a serious security challenge like every other popular Nation but reports like this one need to be questioned. Yes, some sections of the country are affected more than others. People are taking Nigerian citizenship every day, even from the developed world. People will brand us the way we brand ourselves. I am not saying it is not good to report unpalatable issues but how do we report them? Do we keep the same energy to report the good ones? There are counties with bigger security problems than Nigeria, but they choose to manage them internally. I really do not want to mention names of countries but I disagree with that report because the same people will come up tomorrow to say Nigerians are the happiest people on earth. How do you justify the two? Do they mean we are still happy amidst a badly terrorised country? Badly terrorised is how I can describe being rated as the second most terrorised.
Your recent forecast of the 2023 presidential election tried to weigh the chances of the Labour Party candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, and you submitted that he must have control of at least six states outside Anambra to win the election, can you explain that?
It is good that you know that voting along tribal formation is secondary. People vote for their interests first before considering other factors. That Obi should be in total control of at least six states is not just about popularity. It is about tangible political structures and having the ability to meet their various interests. You must understand that as interest differs from one individual to another, so it is with the states of the federation. So, considering the number of Igbo living in other states is not significant to his vote. These people know why they left their native homes to settle in another state, and I can tell you that they will protect that interest ahead of anything else. To them, it is not about having an Igbo Presidency, it is about how the next President can serve the common interest with their own personal interests as the first in line. I do not only expect Obi to be in control of at least six states, I equally stated solutions on how he could harness the untapped structures at his disposal as the candidate of the Labour Party. Except he does all these things, his popularity cannot lead him anywhere.
You have said that Peter Obi is not ready to be president, why do you say so, and what makes a candidate ready for the office of the president?
Please, get this correctly. That I said Peter Obi is not ready for Presidency is not about his ability and capacity. He has been a governor before, and he is a Nigerian living in Nigeria. So, he is expected to understand what good governance is about. But a political campaign is more than just a display of ability and competence. It requires a calculated strategy to win votes at the polls. I must say I have not seen Peter Obi playing political games. He has been doing the popularity contest and he is doing that fanatically. But what follows that? There are 774 Local government areas in Nigeria, who are the persons representing his political interests in these local setups. What about the political units and wards? I deliberately said, ‘Political Interest’ and not asking who knows him. If this is not put in place, I will still say Peter Obi is not ready to be President because he is not ready to cross River Niger, even River Owena, he has not”
You resigned from the Labour Party, and you served the APC in various capacities, and mobilised Progressives Lawyers for Osinbajo when the vice president contested for the APC presidential ticket, yet you say you are not partisan, what are you?
My unchanging political stance is on who will make the country better. Meanwhile, this comes with a clause, and it is ‘Who can win the election and make the country better?’ I know great individuals who can be President of this country and perform credibly well but can they win a presidential contest at this moment? The answer is capital NO. I am an objective persona and have always been for the best of the country. Regarding political inclination, I do not place much premium on any political party now, my focus is on the personae beginning the structures. I am an advocate of good governance, a professional in politics and not a professional politician. So, partisan politics is not my thing for now. I support you if you are doing excellently irrespective of your political party because the utmost priority is not about the party. It is about the development of society and the people.