By Wilfred Eya
Former Acting National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Charles Akintoye in this interview, speaks on the 2023 general election and the chances of the party, among other issues.
With the commencement of campaigns for the 2023 elections, what do you make of the political process so far?
It has been like a normal process as this is not the first time we are having a general election. What is happening now is mostly a replica of what we had in the past. There will be arguments, disagreements, abuses, rumours and lies against individuals, parties, establishments and institutions but at the end of the day, things will settle and we will eventually have a new government.
So, whatever is happening now is not the first time that we will have this type of pre-election environment. It does happen everywhere. Even in civilized countries like America, the pre-election period is always troublesome and hot with all sorts of lies and the social media is not helping matters. People now wake up in their room and tell lies against individuals and some people will believe them. But it is part of the development and Nigeria is developing.
Do you think that PDP will come out of the crisis it is facing before the election?
Naturally! In the sense that the party is bigger than individuals, be it Iyorchia Ayu, Nyesom Wike or anybody else in the party, I believe sanity will prevail eventually for PDP to win the next election.
President Muhammadu Buhari made a promise at the United Nations General Assembly meeting that one of the legacies he will leave is to ensure a free and fair election in 2023; do you think that the President will keep the promise?
It is very possible and there is nothing impossible for the government because the government has the power to ensure probity at any level. If the president has done it a couple of times, chances are that he will do it again and for him to go to the world forum to promise it means he would like to keep his promise. At the end of the day, I expect that there will be a fair and proper election in 2023.
And we would wish the best candidate to win. If the election is fair and credible, someone will emerge and whoever it is, forms an administration that will be able to help the masses. The person will have to look at the problems of the country and try to tackle them to the best of his best ability. So, I believe the President will do what he has promised; I’m positive about that.
With the level of technological deployment by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), do you foresee a situation that electoral fraud would be minimized?
To me and from my scientific mind, it will play a big role. It has even played a smaller role in Ekiti, Osun and Anambra governorship elections and I believe that at the national level, it is going to play a bigger role. Technology is such that you can even be in your house and vote, the computer picks it up and counts you and within six hours, the result is out. That is the benefit of technology, so I believe it will help. Yes, there will still be some manipulations, especially human error and intervention, but largely, technology will overcome most of the small variables that may tamper with the purity of the process.
Some groups and organizations have started making predictions about the presidential election; do you think that such predictions can be relied on going into the election?
They have relevance to an extent. I say this to an extent because I believe research and investigation may have been exclusive to the literates, who are just about a third of the voting force in any election. If truly they went to the markets, the rural dwellers and they are included in the investigation, then one will say it is a good result plus or minus. In America, even two months to the election, they will say Democrats are leading and in the end, Democrats will win. And the margin of error to what the poll predicted would be minimal.
We must start from somewhere. Some reports came out and said Peter Obi is leading. Such reports are subjective to statistics; how many people were interviewed, what is their age bracket, how many people live in the city, and how many were interviewed in the villages? It is after answers are given to these questions that the result will be reflective of the general concern of the people. The outcome of the poll to me is still speculative for now except for those who support the presidential candidates, writing that their preferred candidate will win.
But for any discerning mind, you will see that the political environment is such that All Progressives Congress (APC) is undermining itself, PDP is even trying to destroy its own. However, Labour Party they said has no structure seems to be gaining ground because people are now saying we are tired of the two major parties, let us look for a new bride. Let us be prayerful because at the end of the day, what is most important is Nigeria’s survival. If Nigeria survives, the individual citizens will survive and live a happy life, where there will be freedom for everybody.
The fear in some quarters is the economy, mostly with the commencement of the campaign, are you not concerned that the country might fall into another recession before the election?
I was reading some papers and they said that before December, Naira may go for N1,000 to a Dollar, which is unfortunate. True, there is a global economic meltdown but Nigeria shouldn’t be this bad in the sense that we are one of the oil-producing countries and should be comparable to Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries. We may not be as perfect as them but if oil is a detector of the economy in the world today and we have it, we shouldn’t be this bad.
Whatever it is, I’m sure the present administration and the incoming administration would have to look at this closely otherwise we may become another Zimbabwe, where one million Zimbabwe dollars was buying one loaf of bread at a time. I think Ghana went through some little problems and they have to ask their people to use American dollars to purchase things. I’m sure the people in authority are looking closely at this and they would have to do something otherwise if the country becomes bankrupt, there is no hope for rejuvenation.
We cannot afford to become a beggar country. May God not let that happen to Nigeria but this administration must stand up and face reality, especially when there was a promise that one Dollar would be one Naira over eight years now, such a promise can still be amended. The best rate to me at the moment for the Dollar to Naira is one Dollar to N100, so that our brothers from the East can still import goods that would be affordable to the middle and upper class.
Now, such things do not exist. Maybe the upper class go to Dubai or England and load their boxes with food when they are coming back but think of the millions of masses with the cost of food in the market. It is not good for us and during this election time, we should be very careful. God knows why the present administration is allowing it. All the parties during their primaries used Dollars to buy delegates; that should have been a criminal offence but Nigeria allowed that to happen.
When you go to see governors in any of the states and you say bye-bye, he will say wait and collect something, he will give you Dollar. All these are not good for Naira itself. And when you look at the amount of dollars that come into the country through our sons and daughters abroad, trying to feed their parents, it runs into billions every year. It should strengthen our economy rather than deteriorate it. From your question, I believe the present administration will do something and the incoming administration will do better.
What is your assessment of the security situation in Nigeria?
For one reason or the other, insecurity has been with us for some time and it is affecting farmers as well as herders. Both are affected but the farmers are affected grossly. In Benue State, it is an everyday problem and that is the mass producer of yam for the whole nation. Some come from the North, a bit of it from the South but the Middle Belt produces even the best yam. If the farmers are not going to their farms, there is bound to be food shortage in Nigeria.
Some vegetables come from the North, mostly tomatoes and now because of herders and kidnappers, the tomatoes don’t come easily again to the southern part of the country. So, there is a food shortage and if there is food shortage, may God save the people. When I was a Commissioner for Agriculture, I once said at a seminar that food is the basis of development and I remember that Concord Newspaper of the following day said yes, you have said it, sir, produce it.
Yes, we have arable land and extension workers and we can be another China when it comes to agriculture but insecurity is deteriorating our productivity; when we talk of insecurity and the economy, the buck stops with the government. I once said that if the present administration wants to end insecurity, it should just do more. To me, Boko Haram is just a small cell and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is a small cell compared to the Nigerian Army. If we have a sophisticated Air Force, Navy and Army and Boko Haram for the past 10 years has been troubling all of us, then this administration must stand up.
About two to three weeks ago, I started reading in the papers that the Air Force is now dealing with them and that the president gave them an order to go and wipe them out, let us wait and see the result of this new operation to end insecurity. If insecurity is curbed, then the economy will improve because one of the indices of the economy is agricultural production, maybe we have shifted blindly to oil production.
We must beg the government to please look seriously at ensuring that there is security in the country. If I want to go to Ibadan now, I may not be able to go because if I say I will go by train or by air, there are no flights from Lagos to Ibadan and when I say train, my wife will say have you forgotten about the Kaduna -Abuja incident. So, that is the instability even at the family level how much more at the national level. It is my prayer that God will help the present administration to help all of us.
What do you make of the position of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State that Amotekun must use sophisticated weapons like other security outfits in the North?
First of all, I will say being objective rather than being subjective, Akeredolu is only thinking logically to help his own people. If he can convince himself and convince the larger people, especially the Federal Government, nothing prevents him from doing everything to help his people. He is the chief security officer of that state and he will be held responsible to a high extent. If he is in a position to do more to protect his own people, there is no embitterment. He is only being logical and standing up to the heat of the moment.
I will rather congratulate him than see him as being confrontational. If the government says Katsina but sophisticated weapons for vigilantes in the state, yes government sees a larger picture of the situation than the ordinary person, so the Federal Government may think that Katsina is getting worse, let us approve sophisticated weapons for the vigilante group. They might myopically think it is not like that in Ekiti or Ondo but the chief security officer, who is the governor, sees more because he is on ground. So, let him go through the due process and do whatever he can to protect his people.
Heading into the election, one of the key concerns of many Nigerians is the unity of the country, how do you think Nigerians can be united again?
Disunity has always been one of the problems of our country. Somebody once said that the only time we are united is when Nigeria is playing a football match against another country and you will see the whole country shouting up Nigeria. From a personal experience, I was a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture a long time ago and money was sent to us to do something in Anambra State and the governor called me and said this money must not be used in the northern part of the state, that I must site that project in the southern part.
I said the feasibility study showed that we should site it in the northern part. But he said forget about the feasibility study, remember my second term, that the project must be sited in the southern part of the state rather than the North and I’m talking about almost 30 years ago. It has always been there but it has gone beyond the imaginable level presently. When you say insecurity, it is not because Boko Haram is killing people, so people in some regions even in the North believed that they are marginalized in the distribution of resources, manpower development, and ministerial appointment and it sort of precipitates the fear in individual of survival and that is where I say it is becoming even greater than in the past.
The goodness of it is that unlike in the past, where to me even the university education has been mainly parochial, it is not the same thing these days. In the University of Ibadan, you find students from different tribes marrying each other because they met at the university and along the line; such developments will educate and emphasize and minimize emphasis on our culture, so that in a long time consideration, suspicion leads to regionalism and even ethnicity.
Look at America, they didn’t get to this level almost immediately. It took them a civil war and another 200 years of development but they were honest with each other. But their difference and trying to look at the homogeneity of their society, they wrote a good constitution that has never changed. They only amended and it has never been rewritten because it was written in fair play, justice and consideration of the masses at that time. I believe that when there is proper education, I’m not talking about degree certification but education that will remove fear among the masses to see one another as one country and at the end of the day, we will unite.
Presently, our political class knows certain weaknesses like religion and ethnicity and they are using them to divide us. You may not get the North to demonstrate except you abuse Allah, the East will demonstrate if you increase the dollar and our brothers cannot import things, and Lagos will react if you ban weekend enjoyment. So, we must remove things that bring suspicion and divide us. Our brothers from the East are all over the place oiling the economy and we can’t but not welcome them. The situation must be that when you are in Nigeria, you are in your fatherland even if it is Sokoto.
I believe time and space will remove a lot of our problems in Nigeria but we shouldn’t let it get to a point where we are now talking of separation. I’m not saying separation is bad or good, anybody will prefer a Nigeria of equity, fairness and justice. But in the absence of that, minds will go to separation and now we are talking about Biafra, Yoruba Nation and even some northerners are saying they are ready to go. That is not good for Nigeria but it may be the best at the end of it. God who sits on the permanent truth knows what is good for us and I’m sure He will do it.