Clearly one candidate has shown he cares about restructuring, he has demonstrated it while the other has shown he does not care about restructuring.
Yinka Odumakin is the Publicity Secretary of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere. He speaks on the forthcoming general elections.
As the 2019 general elections approach, Afenifere has moved from its role as a socio-cultural group to taking a political stand by supporting the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. What is that position predicated upon?
Afenifere is fighting for the restructuring of the country because we believe that Nigeria has become a stalemate and that something must be done to pull the country back from the brink. And, pulling the country back from the brink involves going back to true federalism as we had before 1966 when every region of the country were developing at their own pace. That will inform our decision on who to back for 2019 presidential election. But talking about the presidential candidate of the PDP, the Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Middle Belt Forum and Northern Elders Forum are jointly going to announce where we stand at the appropriate time. So it is not the Afenifere’s decision to announce where we stand, but clearly, Afenifere is for restructuring in 2019.
Do you trust Atiku Abubakar to deliver on that within six months of his administration as he promises?
There are two major principal presidential candidates in 2019, Atiku Abubakar and President Muhammadu Buhari. Although there are presidential candidates in other smaller political parties who have made commitment to restructuring, people like Dr. Adesina Fagbenro-Byron of KOWA party and a few others, but among the major political parties, it is only Atiku Abubakar that has made commitment to restructuring. He has voiced it out not just in words because at the national conference, he was the chairman of the committee on devolution of powers; he has shown understanding of what we are talking about.
But on the other hand, Buhari was busy lambasting proponents of restructuring in far away France. He said he doesn’t understand what we are talking about, that we are lazy and that we are this and that, whereas he is the one that is lazy in not understanding what we are talking about. How can he say he doesn’t understand what we are talking about? Even if he does not understand restructuring, was he not the one that set up the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai-led committee on restructuring that has submitted its report? Does it mean that he has not read the report? So clearly one candidate has shown he cares about restructuring, he has demonstrated it while the other has shown he does not care about restructuring. So the option is for Nigerians.
The APC government made similar promise on restructuring in 2015 during the campaigns. Three and half years after the party came to power, nothing has happened. Why should Nigerians trust Atiku to keep his promise?
I am aware that in 2015 when APC made public its manifesto, they were silent on restructuring. I’m aware that some pressure was put on their leaders in the South-West before the party now went back to insert restructuring in their manifesto. So restructuring was not their original idea and I’m not surprised that they denied promising restructuring. But Atiku Abubakar has been talking about restructuring since 2004. He has published a booklet where he has spelt out his ideas on restructuring.
On whether we can trust the north to implement restructuring, I will say that the North is part of Nigeria and the North benefitted immensely when we had federalism, when every region were developing at their own pace. The North of Nigeria was then producing 675,000 metric tonnes of groundnut annually. The money was then going into the pocket of the average northerner and that is why the kind of poverty you find in the North today was not that common at that time. Today that we practice sharing of oil money, it is only the rich that are benefitting. The North needs restructuring more than the South. If you look at the mineral map of Nigeria, you will see that the kind of resources down the soil of the North is amazing so the restructuring that we are talking about is for the benefit of the whole country not for the benefit of a particular section. Restructuring is to free the country from the stranglehold of misrule pervading the country now. There is no other person better suited to preach restructuring to the North than a northerner.
Restructuring requires more of the legislature amending the constitution than executive fiat and it is on record that it is the senate that rejected the devolution of powers during the clause by clause debate at the last attempt at constitution amendment in June 2017. What do you think will play out in an Atiku’s presidency?
What happened was that, at that time there was so much misunderstanding and misinformation on what restructuring would do to the country. I think the South-West and South-East Forum met immediately after the constitution amendment exercise and we had representatives from the North. In fact, Senator Adamu Aliero from Kebbi State was the one that explained that the North would benefit from restructuring because most of the rice that came under the LAKE rice project between Lagos State and Kebbi State came from his own farm. He explained that there were misconceptions on what restructuring was all about. However, today there is awareness that restructuring is for the benefit of every section of the country and that we will do better as a country if we restructure. It is also when every section of the country is allowed to develop at their own pace that we will no longer be the world’s headquarters of poverty.
At a point there was much agitation between the South-West and South-East on who should produce Atiku’s running mate…
I think events have overtaken that now. He will have to run with what is available but the important thing is to ensure that everything is done to bring about inclusivity in whatever arrangement they are going to have to ensure that every section of the country is happy. But it is because of lack of development in the country that there are agitations that the candidate must come from this or that area. In the First Republic when we had a federal system, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto chose to be Premier of the Northern Region and asked his lieutenant, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Belewa to be Prime Minister of Nigeria because powers and responsibilities were vested in the regions. Clearly, ahead of the general elections I think the focus of the South-South, South-East, South-West and indeed every part of Nigeria should be to have a paradigm shift and understand that it is not because the president or vice president come from my area that development will come to the area.
Are you satisfied by the preparation so far made by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the general elections?
Well, there is need for the INEC to do more especially in terms of gaining the confidence and trust of Nigerians in the electoral process. We saw what happened in the Osun State election, which drove a dagger into the heart of many Nigerians. However we also know that after that election some re-organisations were made by INEC. For instance, Amina Zakari, who was alleged to be the brain behind what happened at the poll in terms of the election going into some funny re-run after the election had been concluded was moved from the Operations Unit. We also know that the INEC has sanctioned the ruling party in Zamfara State because they didn’t comply with some provisions of the Electoral Act which has brought some level of confidence in INEC so the commission is expected to brace up and do what is right. Nobody is asking INEC to do what is wrong for any party but to provide a level playing ground for every party and let the better candidate win, that is what we want.
The electoral commission recently delisted about 3, 000 names from the register, what are your thoughts?
The truth is that INEC has to delete more names because it is common knowledge that many names in the voters register are those of foreigners and underage people. So the electoral commission has a lot to do in terms of cleaning up the voters register so that we can have a document that can be relied on as an authentic register of eligible voters in Nigeria.
It is less than 90 days to the general elections the latest version of the Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly has not been assented to by the president. What are your fears?
We don’t know what the president is afraid of; he has been giving one excuse or the other on why he cannot sign it. But if it is true that the ruling party is afraid of the card readers then it is unfortunate because we don’t see the corruption they are fighting. Corruption is defined as using public office to curry personal gains. If the president refuses to sign the electoral law because of the perception that some of its provisions may not favour his party; that is also corruption.