Okwe Obi, Abuja
Action Democratic Party (ADP) presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections, Engr. Yabaji Sani, has expressed fears that Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) might not get fair hearing at the election tribunal because of the country’s judicial system, which he alleged is peopled by corrupt lawyers. On the issue of insecurity, Sani advised President Muhammadu Buhari to replace the security chiefs, adding that they are bereft of ideas needed to quell the rising insurgency in some parts of the country. Excerpt:
What is your take on the outcome of the 2019 general polls?
The 2019 general elections can be described as a watershed in the political development of this country. The expectations of Nigerians and the international community was that Mr President would have demonstrated attributes that people have ascribed to him as someone that is honest and one who will not tolerate anybody taking undue advantage of the system to deny others their inalienable rights as enshrined in the Constitution of this country. The expectations were not met. Nigerians were disappointed that under the watch of Mr President, what happened in the election happened. You cannot divorce what happened in the elections from the undue influence of the party in power. Few days to the postponement of the elections some of the utterances and conducts of the government in power were below expectations. Regardless of what happened before we got to where we were, the use of security agents to manipulate the process and intimate people, including the use of money in such an obscene manner is something that was an unfortunate occurrence because one would have thought that the experiences in Osun and Ekiti states would not repeat itself. But it happened with so much impunity than what happened in those states. So, when you talk about the 2019 elections given the development of this country and where we are today, so much is expected of whoever is the leader because this is a country where people are respected more than the law. So, now if you have somebody that personifies what you will call uprightness, honesty, then you will expect to have some level of decorum and level playing field. But that wasn’t the case. The process was a disappointment in terms of our collective expectations.
You were a candidate in that election, likewise Atiku who is already in court. Do you see him getting justice?
To me, going to court has two sides to it. On one side, you can say that you want to put something for history so that people can use to improve on the situation and document the experience for future references, and probably, stop some of the things that happened. The other side of it is that you want to claim your mandate. So that the manipulations are clear from what we are seeing. But again that is where you have the judiciary functioning in the manner it is supposed to function. Not under this climate where Nigeria is not there yet because we are still developing no matter how you look at it. Anybody in the position at that time would take advantage. In their own investigations and findings, they discovered that the Chief Justice of the Federation was found wanting. And what some of us were quarreling was the timing. But nobody has proved that the man was not guilty of the offence. So, you now have a situation where if you are the interested party, you will not agree. Even the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was in some kind of unholy alliance with the judiciary. The country’s judicial system is corrupt. As someone who is interested in what is going to happen what do you do? So there are two sides to the whole thing. Can justice be served under this system?
Are you saying Atiku cannot get justice?
Justice in Nigeria, especially under this system, to me, is farfetched.
Could that be the reason you didn’t go to court?
Yes, that is one of the reasons. Another reason is that we believe that given the situation this country finds itself, to us as a party, we believe that four years is not too much. Because in the life of a nation against the background of the fact that justice will not be served. There is no way somebody can get justice. In Nigeria, if you look at the mindset of people who are in power, it is not about the common man, but themselves. So, by virtue of the constitution, which they cannot easily change when it comes to tenure elongation, you can as well plan ahead of next elections. As I said, it is okay for Atiku to go to court. For us as a party, we do not believe it is necessary to waste the meagre resources we have. The only thing we need to do is to plan between now and 2023 when we know that the political atmosphere will be different.
Don’t you see that as a defeatist approach because you don’t have a case?
No, we do have a case. But the case we have is to use and build experiences acquired to build for the future. Somebody is doing what we would have done effectively for the sake of history. But to say to get justice, I doubt.
National Executive Council (NEC) announced the expulsion of some of your members from the party. What is the genesis of the crisis?
The NEC had to take that action because of the overwhelming evidence of the characters involved. They are not bona-fide members of ADP. They are agents planted to destroy the party. It would have been a different case if it was a case between two committed members of the party, which would have been settled as one family. In a case where you have an armed robber in your house, how do you settle it? The only way is to get the armed robber out of the house because he or she does not belong there. This is what happened to us because I do not know how else to describe it. Somebody came, collected our vehicle, go to his state, painted it in the colour of another candidate and campaigned against us. These people have no conscience. We did not have any other option than to get them out of the system to enable us identify our members. It was not a mistake or hearsay, this is something that the list brought forward by the Exco of his party listed him as one of the members of the committee. We had instances were people told us that Okoroma has been planted here by Ifeanyi Araraume, that is not our member. One of our members came here shouting at Okoroma that he was an agent, which has come to pass.
This same Okoroma whom you have described as an agent planted to destroy ADP was your campaign director general. Are you saying that his action orchestrated your defeat?
On the day of the elections, these people sent out text messages telling people that I have stepped down for President Buhari. Even in my own state, I had to be telling people that it was a lie. Some people from his state came and told us the same thing that they got information from above mandating them to vote for Buhari and not me. What other evidence do you want us to put forth that they are not members of ADP? They kept lying that I emerged as presidential candidate through undemocratic means, adding that I squandered N200 million. After we went round in search of a potential candidate to come and contest on the platform of ADP, it was just two days to closing that Okoroma and Iboro came here, begging me to run. They say that if I did not run, then I have killed the party. Okoroma said that if I didn’t run, it would be that the party is like a body without a head. That is how I was looking at them. After much thought, I now told them to put my name. That is after I had met Turaki and Kwankwaso twice. Is it Atiku? Even Oby Ezekwesili, I went to her house. Dankwabo brought somebody here. But when the time to commence the process they said they were not interested. So, I was forced to contest. And the same people will now say that I manipulated the process. Is it that they don’t know that they will meet God someday?
Is it that there are no credible candidates in other political parties except the APC or PDP?
The issue of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the PDP commandeering the political space is because they have government either at the state or national level. Election in this country is not just what the electorate want; it is about how much control one has over the security apparatus or people’s money. Parties like ours are not there yet. That is why there is always a vicious fight if the power in the state is not at the federal level mostly between the PDP and APC. So, that is the reason it happened the way it did. But it is not to say that there is no hope. Nigeria is moving on. We are gathering experiences regardless of what people say. People are becoming more informed of their rights. I believe that what is happening in other climes today will happen here where people will rise up against the establishment of unfavorable activities. On the multiplicity of parties that we are talking about, I think that for a growing democracy like Nigeria with over 200 million people according to the United Nations, with so many religious and ethnic diversities, it is okay to allow the multiplicity of parties so that those who may not be interested in the national politics, but are interested in their locality can be involved. The unfortunate thing is that we need to go beyond the arrangement of government. Independence should be allowed there to enable them control their resources. If they are allowed to control their resources people will focus on the state since they have their resources to use. What I am saying is that multiplicity of parties is not bad for a country like Nigeria, what the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should consider is to introduce certain criteria that parties should meet before they are allowed to be on the ballot. For instance, if you want to be on the national ballot it could be said that you should churn out what you have done before in terms of membership of the House of Assembly, which could be used as a yardstick to enable us weed out incompetent people. On the issue of insecurity, I think we know why it has become so embarrassing. We cannot be doing the same thing and be expecting different results. You cannot retain the same service chiefs in the same positions and expect a different result. This man has done it so many times and nothing has worked. If it were to be your private company where you recorded a low turnout, will you continue with the same manager? This president should be somebody who should know more than all of us that to boost the morale of the Force is something that is at the bottom of commitment. They are profiteering with people’s blood. You won’t believe the amount of money going into security. If insecurity is man-made then we are the ones fueling it. The President knows what to do as a former Head of State.
You ranked your party as the 4th, how did you come about the ranking?
If you look at all the presidential candidates, we ran one of the most effective campaigns in terms of visibility and engagement with stakeholders. We didn’t want to indulge in this jamboree of rallies because the same crowd you see in APC’s is the same you will see in another rally, which does not translate to vote.
You alluded that INEC was going to rig the elections in favour of APC and, you, also pleaded with President Buhari to sign the Electoral Act, which he didn’t. If you knew all things would play out why did you still contest?
Mr President was at the centre of the 2019 elections. People have ascribed to him as someone that has integrity, which I thought he would have brought up. I know that President Buhari, as a person, does not have the kind of stake on what is going to happen in winning elections. I expect him to rise to the occasion and do the needful. Then when you look at the INEC, we need to revisit the Electoral Act so that you can now look at it from the experiences we have had that if it is not who pays the piper dictates the tune? We should change it by way of taking it out of the influence of the executive so that it doesn’t have the power to appoint INEC chairman and state commissioners.
Will you blame the National Assembly for not vetoing the Electoral Act?
Which National Assembly are you talking about because the NASS and the president are one and beneficiaries of what we have today.
Between now and 2023 what should we expect from your party?
Nigerians should expect a very vibrant party that will take this country to greater heights; and by the grace of God, establish the next government in this country.