Chief Supo Shonibare of the SDP, blamed vote-buying and party defections on Nigeria’s inability to evolve a political system based on ideology
The whirlwind of defection that hit the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the alarming trend of vote buying witnessed during the Ekiti State governorship election are two major issues now dominating discussions across the country.
In this interview, Chief Supo Shonibare, a chieftain of the Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere, and national vice chairman (South-West) of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), blamed these on Nigeria’s inability to evolve a political system based on ideology, which was essentially caused by the military intervention in body polity of the country, describing the current politicians as money mongers.
He also spoke about former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s romance with Afenfere and the conditions that will decide the future of the new-found love.
The wind of defection is blowing across the main political parties with the actors claiming that they are doing so in order to protect our democracy. What is the link between defection and defence of democracy?
I think the major problem has been military interregnum, which completely introduced a new set of leaders who cut their teeth in the way and manner they saw the military government. So, we didn’t have, as it exists in several other jurisdictions, continuity from those who were the nationalists and those who were at the forefront of the struggle to bring about the Nigerian entity. So, those who say they are foremost politicians of the North that seem to be clinging on to the unitary system of government are doing so because all they know is military intervention in politics, which was inevitably a unitary system. If you look at the other zones too, they have the same challenges. So, what we really have in the polity are not really politicians, whatever anyone says. A politician is a person who believes in a particular ideology of how to evolve a better society. It might be a right or centre ideology. And even that right or centre ideology truly believes a better society can evolve. We don’t have such politicians dominating the politics because of military interregnum, which introduced a new set of people who have stupendous wealth. And that is what we have been battling with from the demise of the Second Republic. It was the military interregnum that brought about a situation where we have power brokers and money mongers who use the power of the money they have to sustain themselves in power without any vision of the society. If things improve, it is per chance not a programmed process. That is why we don’t have parties that are based on ideology. And even those who profess specific ideology have a very little knowledge of economic variables that can sustain the ideology that they claim their party manifesto professes. I think that disagreement within political parties is inevitable because they are usually very quickly assembled group of interests. In a situation like that, if one’s interest is not met within such an arrangement, one is bound to seek an alternative process to actualize one’s interest. There was no pretense when APC was being put together that it was largely those who were discontented with former President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP. All the other groups too were not exactly looking for ideological political vehicle. They were just looking for a formation that could ease out Jonathan. They too can’t say it was not that coalition that eased out President Jonathan. So, if they found out that they are being sidelined, you can’t expect them not to seek other coalitions to see if they can still sustain themselves in power. It’s the epoch of the moment.
Another serious concern is the way and manner politicians now use money to buy votes. What does this portend for our democracy?
Even in developed countries, the ability to raise finances is always to the advantage of the person who is actually able to raise more money. A lot of times, these monies are raised by donors. The issue is here illegal application of finances to aid one’s political ambition. Someone who is spending what he does not have is more likely to recover that money once he gets to the office. I think in most constituencies, you can probably divide those who vote into two segments. The majority of the people who vote are people you cannot offer money to vote for one party or the other. There was someone who was going to vote in Ekiti State and turned back from voting the way he had intended to because he was offered money. That shows that that particular individual cannot be bought
to vote for any person or the other. I think in some catchment areas, the majority of people are like that. Then, we have about 30 or 40 per cent, who because of abject poverty and the complete disenchantment with the political system, will take money to swing total votes in one way or the other. But I still maintain that they are not the majority. Hopefully, once people see that they truly have individuals who represent their collective interest, they will prefer to put their lives on the line to support those individuals. The late Chief Adekunle Ajasin didn’t give anyone any money to go and protest when the processes of election in Ondo State in the 80s were compromised. It was a spontaneous reaction of voters in Ondo State. They reacted in that way because they had a connectedness with the UPN in Ondo State led by Chief Ajasin. At this point in time, people look at the two major political parties as two sides of the same coin. And those in abject poverty and who hear all these figures being brandish about monies that have been looted in the polity feel inclined to want to take their own share of what has been looted. So, it is not as much the fault of the electorate as much as the fault of political class, which has been a disappointment. The political class has proved to them to be two sides of the same coin.
Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo has been in the forefront of the campaign for a change of government. He even met with Afenifere recently to solicit support for his movement. How far do you think he can go in this bid?
There will be elections next year, but I don’t think anyone can say there we be a change of leadership between now and then. What Southern and Middle-Belt Forum leaders, which I am a part of, and Afenifere also is an active component of, are focusing on now is not so much a re- gime change as restructuring. So, we have to look at who is offering us de- volution that contains a structure that is as close as possible to the structure we had at independence. And you will recall that the structure we had at independence was a balanced fed- eration. At the beginning, we had three units, which made it difficult for one of the units to dominate the other. So, what we are looking at is a structure that can ensure equality of representation between the North and the South, a structure than can enable all parts of Nigeria to generate more wealth. Whoever subscribes to true federalism and is able to publicly announce an unambiguous template for restructuring will be supported for the presidency of the country. So, it is not a matter of regime change for the sake of it. It is a matter of hav- ing someone who is able to meet all those requirements that we think is necessary for a stable polity.
There was speculation sometimes ago that your party, SDP, was seeking an alliance with Obasanjo’s movement, but eventually, he adopted ADC as a preferred platform. Why didn’t it work out?
I know that there was speculation, but I am not aware that there was ever any official discussion about former President Obasanjo adopting SDP. He may have considered it as he considered other parties before opting to support ADC. All I know is that even from the inception of the issue of having a united position on restructuring; I was the chairman of Content Committee that put together what we call Yoruba agenda. And we had a summit in Ibadan in September where the people of South-West took a position. All the political parties in the six states of the region had representatives in the committee. The final document we produced, which was asking for federalism, a unicameral National Assembly, parliamentary system of government, regional arrangement was by consensus. Before that agenda was actually presented to anyone, General Obasanjo was the first person we took it to because we were looking for a united approach in the South-West on the issue of restructuring. It was Chief C.O. Adebayo who led us to meet him. So, it is not surprising that he is engaging with us because whichever way he thinks Nigeria can move forward, he will bring his own perspective. But our own perspective is about structure. So, I don’t know if that informed his feeling that he needed his own distinct political vehicle. I think all of us agreed that whichever way we go, there has to be a united position.
And what was his position on restructuring?
He raised some issues about what he felt about the dysfunctions of the template. He said people were asking for less government and we were asking for more. And I said: “No, we are not. We are asking for unicameral National Assembly, which reduces the cost of running government at the centre. We are asking for parliamentary system of government, which further reduces the cost of running executive and legislature separately and that what he thought was an additional system was just a devolved system.”
Does he now subscribe to restructuring?
We have not got to the level of talking about issues. Issue is what governs whatever we do in Afenifere. And I think issue is what we govern what we do in SDP too. It is what will determine what we accept as necessary in the coalition of united political parties, which SDPisapartof. Attheendofthe day, what we align ourselves with will be issue-based.
Is there still any possibility of Afenifere working with Obasanjo?
In the past, we didn’t align with him. The fact that he visited us means that there is realignment. Anyone who is able to accept that restructuring is a critical issue that needs to be addressed will have our support. As I have said earlier, we have not got to the particular. If we get to particulars and details and he says restructuring is not necessary, we will disagree with him. For us, that is the panacea for all the ills and challenges of the country. So, somebody who comes to tell us that it is not necessary, of course, we won’t agree with that person.
What is the ideological similarity between the SDP and the PDP, which is the largest political party in the coalition?
I will say without any apology that we are completely ideologically different from PDP. There is no comparison. We are left or centre group. I don’t think PDP has ever had any pretension of being a left or centre group. And if you look at most of those who were at formation stage of SDP, they are people who have been consistently opposed to PDP from the inception of this republic. So, ideologically, we are miles apart. But the issue on the ground now is about the structure of the country. This is not about attack on any person, it is about issues, policies and what we think is best for the polity. It is about who agrees to what we stand for. If the present government restructures tomorrow, we will align with that position too.
But you will need to convince Nigerians that it is not the desperation of PDP that brought about the idea of coalition.
(Cuts in)Well, if you say it is desperation, obviously you must concede that APC too was desperate to bring about their own coalition. If you look at the coalition that eventually evolved to APC, it was dominated by PDP. If we are looking at desperation, then we can apply it both ways.