By Daniel Kanu
Prof Akin Osuntokun, an activist and political scientist is a renowned strategist.
He served as political adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and was also a director of the presidential campaign of the then ruling People’s Democratic (PDP) in 2011.
In this encounter with Sunday Sun, he speaks on the refusal of President Mohammadu Buhari to sign the electoral bill, the disappointment of the National Assembly, and the bleak future that will await the country if APC implements its harsh economic policies, among other issues. Excerpt:
How will you react to the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral bill?
It is not a surprise that he did not sign it. You know the history of this electoral bill has been pending for years, this is not the first time he has declined to sign it. And this is all in a bid to manipulate the election. Any law or legislation that tends to guide against electoral malpractices, they, I mean the president and his APC people will, use any excuse to frustrate it. Don’t forget that earlier on, the APC senators voted against the electronic transmission of results, but because of too much pressure they had no option than to succumb. So, what is happening is consistent with the APC attitude in working against anything that will deepen our democracy. What is happening is an invitation, a manifestation that they want to be given the latitude to manipulate the elections. They are looking for an excuse not to sign the bill. They are using direct primaries as an excuse; they are saying that people are against direct primaries. If the direct primaries are not acceptable to Nigerians or to the president they would have made that known. But what is happening is an after thought, an excuse not to sign the bill. Did Nigerians say they do not like direct primaries? If it is the direct primary that bothers them why not say, okay, take this away and you sign.
But looking at the scenario, do you think the National Assembly will veto the president’s refusal not to sign?
I don’t see that happening. They will not override him; of course, we have an Assembly, a constituency that does his (President’s) biddings, more of a rubber stamp. There is no chance whatsoever that the details will be overruled by the Senate. In fact, there is nothing that points to the fact that the Senate will veto him. Don’t forget that this Senate is largely APC, they voted against electronic transmission of results and you ask what is the motive in doing that, rather than wanting to be given the latitude to manipulate the outcome of the election. What we have is a Yes-man Senate or is it oh-yes members, whatever they call it. There is nothing in the history of this Senate or the National Assembly that suggests any amount of independence or autonomy. We know that this government has a terrible reputation on corruption so what we are witnessing is not a surprise. Are we surprised that the country under this leadership is bleeding profusely? Incompetence in action.
Do you see 2022 being gloomy looking at what the government is planning to do like subsidy removal, increased taxation etc?
I have commented already along that line that look, ordinarily election periods in Nigeria are fraught and prone to crises and sometimes violence, now if on top of that you are now adding more pains giving the issues you have raised, you will now be giving room for what is called a perfect storm. A crisis which you have identified that can snowball into violence that will have huge effect on the people. Why fan the ember? Why do something that will aggravate it the more? I have asked myself that question that why now? They want to remove subsidy, why are they doing it now when you are going in less than a year to the end of your tenure? They suddenly discovered the removal of subsidy on petrol, I don’t understand, it is difficult to give this government a benefit of the doubt. I don’t see or have any faith in whatever they do and you can see it in everything that they are doing, lies, propaganda, and incompetence. When an election is coming up as we are expecting it now certain actions that are vexatious, that has the potential of fermenting crises should be avoided in a run-off to the election, but on the contrary it is what we seem to be bargaining for now to get. So, it is left for any right-thinking person to wonder what this government is doing, the havoc. Are you saying that they are not factoring future peace into what they are doing? But if they do that means there is more to it, it may be a deliberate attempt to sabotage the election, I don’t know. That is what it looks like.
But are you not worried as most Nigerians are that the PDP, the major opposition party, your party, is not providing the needed viable and vibrant opposition expected at this time?
Part of the problem with Nigeria is that it is difficult to sustain opposition at the national level given the pseudo-military constitution that we have. This is why the people are asking for the restoration of true federalism. The Nigerian president is so powerful, the centre is so powerful that if they want they can easily neutralise and muzzle the opposition, especially through inducement, carrots, intimidation, terror or whatever it is they want to use, we have seen defections that ought not to happen to the direction of the APC. Quite a number of them are having problems/issues with the EFCC, or one thing or the other, that is part of the problem with the constitution that we have. It makes any other person, opposition party or pressure group, to a large extent be at the mercy of the president or the central government. So, it is not surprising where you find a situation that we do not have a viable or very strong opposition. The Federal Government has more of the patronage to break the rank of the opposition, the discretion, the power to do and undo, but that, of course, doesn’t excuse our politicians. Most of them (politicians) are very cheap people, they can be bought easily, and some have skeletons in their wardrobe, so they are fearful. So, we should not be surprised that there is lack of viable opposition.
What should be the reaction of Nigerians with this president’s refusal to sign the Electoral bill and believing that the National Assembly will not kick against it?
This Nigerian population has been so battered that their priority now is just to let this government go. That is their position for now, any other thing is secondary. I think the attitude now is, look let this government go; they will then take care of other things. Sadly, elections in Nigeria are prone to rigging, it is assumed that whoever is at the centre like the president, especially this oresident, will manipulate the election to suit his purpose whether direct or indirect primary. Most Nigerians believe that what they do does not matter, especially when after voting the results are manipulated, they believe that their vote don’t count, so they are fed up and are just counting the days for this government to get out. Their attitude now is that anything that has an end we look forward to it.
But don’t you think such attitude is wrong because if they fold their arms and resign to fate it will not take the government out and the one that will take over may be worse, perhaps, a continuation of suffering?
I don’t believe there may be an extension of anything. The thing about Nigeria is that Nigeria is also a very complex country ridden in contradiction. If you think you can teleguide your successor, you may be disappointed because we have seen examples both at the presidential and at the state level where the godson who becomes the president or governor will become so tough and even want the head of the godfather. This election that is coming, it will be very difficult to manipulate, people are so aggravated, so vexed, pent up frustrations and in that anger if anything is done to go against the people’s wish it will backfire. Again the security situation in the country also questions the ability of the government to do or conduct a credible and peaceful election. Everywhere is volatile, but let’s watch the situation and see how the government bad policies will play out.