One week after the presidential election, maritime lawyer and former President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba, takes a critical look at the election’s outcome, describing the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), President Goodluck Jonathan, as the number one hero for conceding defeat to his All Progressives Congress (APC) counterpart, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. He also speaks on the voting pattern during the election, how the incoming administration can develop alternative source of revenue in the face of dwindling oil prices and the threat by the leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Mujaheeden Asari-Dokubo, to return to the creeks, following the result of the presidential poll. Excerpts:
The presidential election has come and gone. What is your critical appraisal of the entire process?
We have had this election, which ran for three days of absolute inactivity. I feel the country should not be shut-down because we are having elections. However, I had predicted that nothing will happen to Nigeria. I was confident that there will be no violence. I was confident that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will not come in time, I was confident that the smart card readers will not work efficiently, but I was confident about the process. It has generally improved. So, let’s not lament. For the fact that Nigeria has not vanished like many people thought, I think it’s a plus.
Following the outcome of the election, do you think we have heroes and villains?
Yes. The number one hero is the man that has worked himself out and discovered that he has been tremendously relieved, and that is President Goodluck Jonathan. President Jonathan didn’t make the mistake that Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida made. The glory that Jonathan has now taken today was the glory that IBB would have taken in 1993. What was IBB doing after nine years in office? So, I have the impression that Jonathan called himself to question, having been in power since 1999. He would have said, ‘well, I have given it my best shot but now I lost. Rather than allow my supporters like Elder Godsday Orubebe to rubbish me, I will rather give in’.
The second hero, if I was to consider, are Professor Attahiru Jega, the INEC Chairman, or the Nigerian masses, but I give it to the Nigerian masses to decide.
However, I will say Jega is a hero. His calmness and civility resulted in the election being concluded peacefully and accepted by everybody. Even President Jonathan accepted it.
To expand on why I said Jonathan is a hero, it’s because there is no known dictator the world over that concedes defeat to an opposition. Again, he is a hero for the fact that he allowed the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) to grow. It may be easy to say Jonathan has no choice, but he indeed has choices. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has shown that he can absolutely decapitate the opposition.
So, that is a very strong commendation for Jonathan for allowing the democratic process to work, he allowed multi-party democracy, he allowed free elections. We have seen some Nigerian Presidents who didn’t allow it, we have seen how the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) frustrated Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) from becoming President. We have seen how IBB did not allow the process to produce MKO Abiola. So, we must give Jonathan the credit for being cool, calm and accepting defeat.
Again, the opposition APC is another hero. For the fact that there was a credible and intelligent opposition among whom were Babatunde Fashola, Dele Alake and Wale Edun, the thinkers, that is why they beat the PDP. The PDP was busy doing hate campaigns, which APC also did and we condemned it. What I saw was an APC with an absolute brilliant football team with people around. The PDP was a weak football team with a weak manager and that cost them the election. So, those are the four heroes.
On the other hand, the biggest villains are the South-East and the North-West. It is incredible for Jonathan to have won with such numbers in the South-East. It is unbelievable and doesn’t do the leaders of the South-East any good, neither does it do the leaders of the North-West any good for Buhari to score such number of votes. We need balance voting like we saw in the South-West. How can a man score about 90 percent? Is it that the South-East was shut-out from the national equation? So, the villains are leaders of the PDP in the South-East who don’t understand the balance voting is critical. So, we hope that the April 11 gubernatorial elections will produce a balance voting in Lagos, Enugu, Kaduna and other states. I don’t want to see that Party A has 90 percent and Party B has 0 percent. That is not voting, that is the biggest draw-back in this election.
What should be blamed for the imbalanced voting?
Ethnicity was the cause. We must get rid of that, because that is the only thing that would identify a region as a villain. The challenge for the APC government will be to zero into vote swinger pattern. These whole business of restructuring Nigeria, where settlers residing in a place can contest and win elections is what we need to do to move forward. So, we want the April 11 gubernatorial election to reflect balanced voting. The problem the PDP had was that it got too confident because it was getting all the votes. So, we don’t want the APC to become the PDP and get all the votes. People should vote with their heads, for the party they want in a way that is straight.
Do you advise the new APC government to look into the outcome of the National Confab?
They should consider the outcome. I was a member of the National Conference and there were challenges. It depends on your interest. There are about 170 million Nigerians of different ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds, and something meaningful has come out of it was. But who would have believed that the National Conference would have gone as well as it is. So, we can do it. I expect that the APC will begin to find a common ground that all Nigerians can live together, that is the recommendation. So that in 2019, we won’t have this issue of imbalanced voting. It’s not good for the system.
However, to achieve absolute balanced voting, it’s a long-term thing. It requires discussions at a constitution conference, so that people begin to feel less about state of origin. Why do I need to indicate my state of origin on forms? The larger question is the constitution conference you referred to. We can start now by demonstrating that balanced voting is the way to go. Balanced voting is key. I don’t expect the South-East where I hail from, should have voted 90 percent for Jonathan. It was that balanced voting that Buhari got that made him win. What helped Buhari was the consistent balanced voting in the middle between 40 and 60 percent across the states. But on the part of Jonathan, the few high-graphs proved unhelpful. So, as a politician, it makes sense to me to appeal to everybody. I would rather split the votes with my opponent in my stronghold, and also split the votes with my opponent in his stronghold. By and large, it was the failure to understand balanced voting that caused the PDP the election.
This strategy of balanced voting was exactly what took US President Barrack Obama to the White House. If Obama had felt that since I’m a black man, I’m going to stay with the blacks in America, he would have lost. But he crafted his demographic voting strategy to the extent that everybody felt included. So, with what we have seen in this election, I believe Nigeria has passed that stage.
The cost of governance is high, while many live in poverty. What should be done?
They should decapitate the civil service. This is very important now, and I think General Buhari has alluded to it. If people are coming to the National Assembly with a view that they will receive the kind of emoluments they receive, let Buhari make it clear that they won’t get it.
Let him make it clear that if a lawmaker thinks he will be getting over N600 million representing the people, and we have more than 60 million unemployed Nigerians, let him (Buhari) make it loud and clear that his administration will not let it happen.
Again, we need to take up the Stephen Oronsaye Committee Report. If you read that report, it rationalises out 30 percent of the civil service. So, the civil service is over-bloated and needs to be cut down, in favour of capital projects.
Again, considering the dwindling oil price, one big area the new administration should look into is the maritime sector. The money in the maritime sector is unbelievable as you can see that Apapa, in Lagos, is the largest port in Central West African zone. Particularly, as the government has declared a highly progressive social security policy of distributing benefits to the poor people, it has to look for money.
The third area that the new government has to look at is the counter-corruption programme. It has to absolutely dismantle the present framework and erect a new one. Let the message be made very clear that there will be a response by government should a public servant be corrupt. When there is the perception that corruption will be severely punished, you will be very shocked that people will be in line. But if there is no perception that corruption will be severely punished, people will misbehave.
An all-inclusive government
If I am Gen. Buhari, I will pick the best professional team, it doesn’t matter where you are from, so long that it complies with the Constitution. For instance, if there is a person serving in the current administration that did well, I will pick that person to serve in my team.
PDP’s dissatisfaction and impending law suit.
Nobody should cause that confusion. The man who ran the election says, ‘I concede defeat’. If the PDP goes to court, they are on their own. I, as a lawyer, will not support the PDP going to court, when the principal has conceded defeat. This was the reason the petition in Ekiti State was not really strong, because Fayemi’s heart was not in it.
Today, we can see Fayemi celebrating, that is concession and the beauty of democracy. You can’t win all the time. Look, God has blessed Jonathan to the point where he has been in office consistently since 1999. When Jonathan was working in the NNDC, I was long a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and I am still a SAN. From NNDC, he became deputy governor, governor, vice president, acting president and then president. Come on, this is one man? God has blessed him indeed to get to the peak of his political career.
By and large, even though logistics is a challenge, let us thank God that the elections were peaceful and results accepted. Out of this election process had come a number of new things. Concession is one, the President conceded defeat. So, I will expect that in the gubernatorial election on April 11, we can get more concessions. Then, we see the lines of fierce professional opposition. So, the next thing now is to begin to see the lines of strong parties. I want to see Nigerian parties emulating the parties in the United Kingdom. You can’t see the Labour lawmaker moving to the Conservative because an election was lost. It doesn’t happen because there is an ideology. Here, our political parties have no ideology, truth be told. Hopefully, in the next four years, incidents where one political party fielding a candidate and still goes ahead to endorse another candidate will be impossible. We need to see a tougher INEC that disallows this kind of incidents. If your party’s candidate is on the ballot and you go ahead to endorse another party, the INEC Chairman should disqualify you.
What do you make of the renewed threat by Asari Dokubo to go back to the creeks, because Jonathan lost?
He will be in prison. Asari Dokubo cannot threaten Nigeria. Look, who is he working for? That is why I make Jonathan my number one hero. You can’t cry more than me that lost my mother.
The President has conceded, so who is Asari Dokubo to say he is going back to the creeks? What is he going back to the creeks to do? Let him go back to the creeks and he will die in the creeks.
Buhari has said his administration will run Boko Haram out of town. So, any miscreant that wants to make trouble, it is the duty of the President to deploy our cohesive force to flush the person out. We want peace, so nobody should disturb our peace in this country.
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