Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Jonathan Asake is the newly elected national president of Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), a socio-cultural organisation in Kaduna State.
Asake was Special Assistant (SA) to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo on National Assembly matters from 2005 to 2007.
He defeated two other contestants recently to become the SOKAPU national leader.
In this exclusive interview, the SOKAPU leader said he will ensure that during his tenure, he will impress on government to treat his people fairly in political affairs of Kaduna State.
He also spoke on some national issues.
What is your view about hate speech bill before the National Assembly because most Nigerians are saying it will end up muzzling freedom of expression?
When the controversy on this issue of hate speech started, following the introduction of a bill on the matter to the National Assembly by one Senator Abdullahi Sabi from Niger state, I didn’t know exactly what the definition of hate speech was until I checked.
Although there are different definitions by different dictionaries, but most conclude that hate speech is one that incites hatred against a group of persons defined in terms of their race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Of course, from the definition, hate speech is bad and should never be tolerated or condoned by any society. However, I believe that there are many legal ways to deal with it other than prescribing the death sentence by hanging. I believe that this proposed law is intended to cow the people ahead of 2023, especially against the backdrop of the rumoured third term agenda.
I can assure you that, that obnoxious bill is dead on arrival because it seeks to serve the interest of a few cabals and not National interest.
You have just been elected national president of Southern Kaduna People’s Union(SOKAPU). How was the election, was it keenly contested?
Yes, I can say that the election was keenly contested because all of us, the three contestants worked very hard and determined to emerge as winner. At the end of the contest, I emerged victorious with 248 votes while Rev. Dr. Reuben Turbi, the National President of Chawai Development came second with 49 votes and Rev. Dr. Andrew Duya who’s currently the SOKAPU Chairman, Lagos State Chapter came third with 10 votes. Because the election was adjudged to be free and fair, both co-contestants have congratulated me.
How was SOKAPU election conducted. Was it by Delegates or general voting pattern?
It is by delegate. SOKAPU is structured to stand on 3 major pillars. The first and primary pillar upon which our union rests is the Community Development Associations (CDAs) representing the 53 registered ethnic Nationalities out of 67 existing ones under the umbrella of SOKAPU. The second leg is the Local Government Branches. The third is the Chapters where we have a Chapter of the Union in almost all the states of the federation. However, for the purpose of elections, each of these pillars produces 5 delegates. The wings also, which comprises the Women, Youth and Student wings produce 5 delegates each. In the final analysis, about 500 delegates were expected to vote, but in the case of my election however, the total number of eligible delegates were 318. This is actually less than the expected number and the reason is because some of the CDAs, branches, chapters and wings, did not update their annual dues and were therefore not qualified to participate in the voting process in line with SOKAPU Constitution.
During your acceptance speech following your victory at the election, you said if INEC officials were there as observers, they would have had something to learn. What did you mean by that?
Yes, I said so because due process was strictly adhered to by the Electoral Committee in the entire process that led to my emergence. The electoral process was so transparent, free and fair to the extent that all the contestants and their supporters applauded the process whether in victory or defeat. Why I said INEC should have been there to emulate SOKAPU was because in virtually all the elections conducted by INEC in recent times, they have been generally adjudged to be not transparent, not free and fair, marred with irregularities and full of rancour. This is why after every election conducted by INEC, the outcome is always controversial, crises- ridden and always ends up in avoidable litigation. Let me tell you, whenever and wherever a democratic process is subverted in this manner, it always have the propensity of throwing up leaders that lack legitimacy; leaders who brazenly violate provisions of the Constitution; leaders who arrogantly abuse the rights of citizens, make nonsense of the rule of law and go about governance as if they are doing some unmerited favour to their citizens.
This arrogance of power that we are currently witnessing with some of our leaders can never happen in a democracy where votes count. Any leader that knows that he can win or lose with one vote will respect the electorate and submit himself/herself to the rule of law and the constitution which they all swore to uphold. They will remain responsive and accountable to the people.
But as long as votes don’t count and INEC continues to violate the voting rights of the people, then I’m afraid we have a long way to go from true democracy and good leadership.
Few days to the election, there was media report that SOKAPU was enmeshed in crisis of registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). What is the true position?
Official handing over has not been done since our election took place just about three days ago and I’m therefore not in a position to know the registration status of SOKAPU because I’m yet to have that information. However, let me just observe here that the whole brouhaha about CAC incorporation or non incorporation of our union was purportedly reported by one obscure online medium just a day to our election. I was told that in the said report, that we were refused registration because CAC had queried that our union was more of a political association than sociocultural. How laughable this is! SOKAPU, just like any other association, forum or union does not require incorporation to function.
This story was planted by mischief makers to cause confusion among millions of our members aimed at scuttling the elections.
The existence of our union is one of the several rights guaranteed by our constitution. If you check Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution, it clearly states amongst other things that every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, they may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of their rights and interests. So, no association, union or forum is required to be incorporated before it can function. So, all the noise about registration of SOKAPU is nonsense. We cannot be distracted and we are set to pursue the goals for which our union was formed. Having said this, when I take over and ultimately settle down, I will look into such issues.
What are the legacies left behind by your predecessor that you may want to improve upon?
My predecessor, Solomon Musa, I’m afraid, left a very big size shoe for me. His legacies upon which I will want to build on are many. These include: Barrister SK Musa stood solidly behind our people in times of distress following the invasions of our communities by armed Fulani herdsmen who killed, maimed, raped and sacked many of our people in the rural communities into IDP camps without food or medication while there was no help coming from government. He was able to call the attention of the world to the horrendous cruelty meted out to these hapless and traumatised people. He did not stop there, but he went ahead to mobilize resources and relief materials for our displaced and neglected people. He was able to courageously stand firm in the face of intimidation, blackmail and threats from a hostile government and never blinked. He protected and upheld the pride, dignity and honour of the Southern Kaduna person.He created a broad base for inclusiveness in the running of affairs of SOKAPU through the creation of various committees under the Union. He kick-started the process of the building of SOKAPU headquarters which has been a longstanding yearning of our people.Under his watch, SOKAPU witnessed renewed vigour in otherwise passive branches and chapters. This led to the opening of new chapters and also the establishment of SOKAPU international Chapter. These are just a few of his legacies among many others that I hope to improve upon.
Your people have been crying of political marginalisation in the State. Where do you stand between agitation for creation of Gurara State and the move to produce a governor in the state from Southern Kaduna?
Indeed, the agitation for state creation came as a result of the marginalization of the Southern Kaduna people which is still there today, and perhaps, has even grown worse. Southern Kaduna people were being discriminated on the basis of their ethnicity and religion. So, seeing that there was no justice, fairness and equity in the sharing of resources, government appointments and infrastructural development, they started a struggle for the creation of a new Kaduna State out of the old, believing that if they got their state, things will be alright. After all, Southern Kaduna with a land mass of about 26,000 sq km, and an estimated population of about 4 million is larger in size and more populated than many states of the federation and therefore, qualifies to stand as a state, moreso, that this part of the state is endowed with both human and natural resources. Unfortunately, the requirement or procedure for the creation of a state as stipulated in the 1999 Constitution is very cumbersome and has made it too difficult, if not impossible to get a state created in a democracy. On the other hand, the agitation for power rotation is to the extent that a Southern Kaduna State is not created, and so let there be equitable power rotation, power shift or power sharing to ensure inclusiveness and balance among the various diversities of the state. So, I can conclude by saying that we need power shift if we cannot have our state.
Some people are saying that SOKAPU has been rendered a toothless bulldog over the years in terms of fighting for political equation in the state. As a newly elected president of the union, how do you intend to make it bark and bite, so to say?
Toothless bulldog? Well, SOKAPU was not created to bite anybody, so the need to have teeth to bite does not arise. SOKAPU is not a government and has no powers and authority to enforce or regulate issues like a government. No!,That’s not our business. But as a socio-cultural organization and a pressure group, we have the capacity for mass mobilisation of our members to respond and react to draconian policies and actions of government which we find to be unjust and unfair to our people. We also have the capacity to mobilize in support of government when their policies are friendly and people-oriented.
SOKAPU is involved in the sensitization and mobilization of its members for civic duties like voter education, voter registration and voter turnout. The union also keeps touch with all its member communities and keeps records of happenings around them whether good or bad since our membership spreads across the 36 states of the Federation and in the Diaspora. We also encourage socio-cultural activities among and between the diverse groups and nationalities that constitute the union. But under my leadership, we hope to reach out beyond our borders.