Renowned academic, Prof Lai Olurode was former Dean, Faculty of Social Science, University of Lagos and former National Commissioner of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The respected scholar in this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun spoke on state of the nation, particularly the problem with leadership, de-registration of political parties and why the country will continue to record electoral failures.
He also took a critical look at the nation’s deepening security challenge and the need for decentralization, among other national issues. Excerpt:
Elections have been upturned at different courts in the country. As one that has been involved in election management what exactly is your take on what is wrong as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has come under intense criticism and indictment of being inefficient?
The answer is yes and no, and I will tell you why. Of course, not to say that INEC can be completely exonerated. All the same, INEC cannot be blamed for all the electoral heist that beset Nigeria. Look at the Zamfara State case, for instance; you have a party that has a constitution, a party that has rules and regulations, but somehow there is an oligarchy within the party that felt that it could not be rule-bound, that the wish of that tiny elite had to be carried out either wrongly or rightly. I once confronted one of them when I was still in INEC in those days and I said: don’t you think that it will not be healthy for your party if you go on with this kind of imposition of candidates, ignoring the primary purpose of conducting primaries. The essence of primary is to allow the rank and file within the party to have a say about whom their candidate is going to be. Let the party members have input on choosing who is going to represent them as their candidate, but they, the oligarchy, in the party will not allow such. They chose the candidate with impunity and impose them on others with impunity that they have no regard. If parties are not run based on internal party democracy then you can’t go out there and say that you are the chieftain of democracy. They did what they like without any regard for their party members and they overrule party members, they overrule their own primaries and different people emerge in the primaries. The aggrieved party went to court and the court told them no that they did not hold any primary, that the one they did, did not hold water. Therefore, they lost all, the lost the governorship, three senators and the House of Reps members, as well as the House of Assembly members. So, will anybody blame INEC for that? You can’t blame INEC for that. One of the electoral laws says that whoever emerges in the primary according to the primary monitored by the INEC are the candidates that INEC should accept and INEC accepted them. The only way you can fault INEC here is if their report didn’t reflect that there was no primary conducted in Zamfara State. But the sole responsibility is from the head of the political party that is set up under a constitution, under certain rules and regulations that should respect those rules, but they brush the rules aside and acted with impunity and they got what they asked for; there was no primary and the party, I am sure knows that there was no primary carried out, but they just believe that they can have their way once they are in power they believe nothing could stop them. But again, don’t forget even if the party had submitted names of fools, idiots, INEC has no choice, INEC is helpless in that regard. It had to respect the list of candidates that the party said had emerged from its primary. I am not sure that we are ready for the kind of democracy that we are practicing. If it is consensus they will rubbish it, if it is through primary election they will rubbish it, and this is happening all over the country, no party is an exemption, no party is healthy as it is today and if a party is in tatters, that party cannot deliver on good governance. Our parties lack discipline, you cannot place something on nothing, the foundation is weak, there is no structure, there is no architecture, there is no infrastructure, so where are you going to build on? That is the challenge we have and it is a very serious challenge because it is not going to make for policy coherence. If you have a party that ignores rules, that has no regard for its members, how can that party throw up a government that will be stable, that will be steady, that will be coordinated, it is doubtful.
The electoral umpire, INEC recently de-registered 74 political parties, but the court has stopped it when some political parties approached it. What is the implication?
We have not seen the end of the entire developing issues, I think it is still at the lower court, either at the high court or so, the appeal is there, the Supreme Court is there. You see under Balarabe Musa Vs INEC the ruling there when Gani Fawehinmi of blessed memory went to court as the lawyer to Balarabe Musa to challenge it. Of course, the terms, conditions for forming a political party have become liberalized, then with the amendment of 2017 again, I think in Section 224 or 225 B or so, I have forgotten the relevant section now, which now says that you must at least show some strength either at the House of Assembly or at the local government election or the National Assembly election, but that you must show some strength, some parties are yet to fulfill such conditions. Given certain sections of the law, INEC has wide powers to deregister parties, for even if your office in Abuja has been closed down and is not being run, INEC can base on that to deregister your party, if you have not filed the auditor’s report with INEC or you show no representation in Abuja and in some states of the federation, you stand to be deregistered by INEC. But if you look at it, I begin to have a rethink, there is a need for you to be on the ballot paper as a political party, for it to be established that you are serious, you need to be on the ballot paper to show that you have some strength, at the same time you want to promote liberal democracy, people should be free as to the party of their choice, what they want to do etc; but you can then operate at the local level, you don’t need to say you want to go national when you are not even known at the local level, otherwise what we can do is to even liberalize it to the extent of saying: let there be independent candidates, you don’t even need to operate under the platform of any political party. But I think the way it is, it is going to be cumbersome for INEC to manage if there is no regulation of how they should operate. Of course, you can say that when you liberalise the political parties formation and people can form their own parties you somehow also give opportunity to people who get suffocated under their political party to look elsewhere so that instead of being suffocated to death they can look in another direction, therefore, there will be no need for you to run after the life of people that didn’t agree with you at the party level.
Looking at the way the insurgents particularly Boko Haram is getting emboldened each passing day with their brutal killings, do you think the Federal Government is winning the war on insecurity challenge as regularly claimed?
Well, I don’t think we should be talking in terms of winning the war, we should not be thinking in terms of only the Federal Government winning the war. It is we; we should be winning that war as Nigerians, you and I, everybody has a role to play. Are we playing that role? The answer is no to a large extent. People hide information within the civilian population, they will not share the information they have with the military, they are compromising and some people are making money out of it, smiling to the banks. They have suppliers within the country who supply them food, supply them information, share intelligence reports with them, about the movement of military personnel and they ambush our military and kill them. So, we as Nigerians are also compromising our own security. The way the insurgents can be won for me is that we have to undertake a number of actions simultaneously. The one that appears for me to be more important for now is that of regional security. The way to go is to encourage associations, organisations, and institutions, local governments that want to help that are determined to support to compliment to be encouraged. This is not the time for legal niceties. Some people say they want to form Amotekun and you say no, that they can’t form Amotekun. Are you saying that they should not support you? And the war is becoming unbearable, it is affecting productivity. Only God knows what will be the prices of food this year and the coming year. People are unable to farm as there are attacks everywhere. There was a serious attack I think in Katsina and people are afraid to go to their farms to produce food for us. I think early 2017 or thereabout in 2016, the former governor of Kaduna State said that labourers, farmers in Kaduna were being kidnapped. And the kidnappers were taking as low as N1,000 to release them. So, this is a challenge, it is for all of us to rise to the challenge. The primary purpose of government is to secure, promote the welfare and security of the people and, therefore, if the regional government, state government are ready and willing to partner with the Federal Government to tackle the issue of insecurity which appears to be intractable, I don’t think anybody should discourage such. The six states in the Southwest said: it pays us to come together in the economy of scale, that it will cost them less than if they have to be doing it separately, but somebody is kicking against it, where is the federation? In all federations in the world they allow regional cooperation in security matters, so are you not allowing it? Are we going to return to the state of nature where life will be brutish, nasty and short? The challenge now is not to be looking at the legalities, nobody is saying that Nigeria should tear apart, we all need one united Nigeria, there is no doubt about that, but in terms of the security of Nigeria, the current security architecture cannot respond effectively to the security challenge of this country and, therefore, there is need for decentralization of security apparatus so that it can be more effective. Any governor, any state, any local government that wants to partner with you (FG) should be encouraged. It is only when you are secured that you can think of being productive; that you can think of creativity, etc. look at China almost locked down, why? Because people feel their life is under threat of Coronavirus, so productivity is at a standstill. Look in those Boko Haram areas children cannot go to school, women, children, family members are sleeping on the streets, go to the streets of Maiduguri and you will see. There is no doubt the authorities are trying, FG is doing its best, but they can do better. But as I said the Federal Government alone cannot do it, they cannot be solely responsible for the security challenges that bedevil the country. There has to be a synergy between the local governments, we have them up to 774, we have 36 states and they cannot be seen to be hiding. If the Federal Government maintains security at the centre, what about states and local government? They must do whatever they can to ensure that they also play their own part of the role. But in all the Federal Government must encourage other security outfits either regional, state or from the local government rather than being too legalistic, give them permission, the authority to operate rather than making things difficult while the lives of Nigerians are being wasted each passing day. You have to be alive first to obey the law. I still say kudos to our military personnel, our Airforce men, they are doing their best. But their best is not enough for the country, therefore, let them get support from wherever support can come from. What average Nigeria wants is to feel secured and that is what the constitution promised.
The FG may be apprehensive that if they allow regional security like the Amotekun in the Southwest and others to be operational it may lead to the balkanization, break-up of the country. Do you think along that line?
How will they do that? They are not a military force. You are talking about police for civil matters. Why will the people want the country Balkanised? What will they gain? No ethnic group whether the Yoruba, Urhobo, Igbo, Hausa, etc; they know that it is only our existence within corporate Nigeria that makes us to be relevant. We have tried balkanization before, it didn’t work. You can’t leave the Southwest to itself, it will tear itself apart, the Ijebus, the Oyos, the Egbas, etc will fight themselves to finish. So, it is with other ethnic groups like the Igbo. So, it’s being in Nigeria that makes meaning, with justice and fair play. I don’t think any reasonable person will think that breaking up Nigeria will make things better. We need synergy. We need to pull resources to address the security challenge. Let’s concede some powers to the region, we have practiced centralization for more than 50 years, it’s not working. It’s good we go back to the constitutional conference report that was put together by President Jonathan; let’s see the suggestions that were made concerning our security. We cannot go far under the present structure if we don’t decentralize.
What is your take on zoning, particularly on the presidency?
Those things are diversionary, an average person from the East, an average person from the Southwest, South-south, an average person from all regions are suffering. The colour, ethnicity, religion of that average person matters a little, they are hungry, angry, homeless, etc and that is the truth. Lateef Jakande of Lagos State, provided houses, sent children to schools, he didn’t ask about their ethnic group, he was just providing services. If people have come from the Southeast and they are in Lagos and Lagos can provide for them, will they not build in Lagos? Will, they not transform the economy of Lagos? If they are in Kano will they not do the same thing? So, why should that bother us? What matters is services and the person that can provide it and that for me should be the concern. If the Igbo man can provide it or Hausa man let the person be given the opportunity or are we going to eat ethnicity? You want a good school for your children or are you going to be asking that you want a school where only Igbo people teach? Or where only Urhobo men teach? That person will be stupid asking such a question. The question is who can deliver the services better; let anybody who can do the job let him be given the job, Nigerians are starving, Nigerians are unemployed and they should not be bogged down by those issues which are reactionary. The president of Nigeria before was Olusegun Obasanjo, can we say in all sincerity that the Yoruba interest was protected or advanced when he was there? President Jonathan has been there before was there in any sense which you can conclude that because he was there the interest of the Ijaw man was better off?
What do you see as the problem with Nigeria?
I am not too sure most of our leaders have read Socrates, Plato, I am not sure most of our leaders are deep in philosophy, I doubt. I am not even sure some of the academic work of people like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, etc are ever read by them. In those days in Lagos, in the 40s, 50s the talk was about constitutionalism, socialism, liberal democracy etc, and these people were hot eggs, they read anything that could be read just to ensure that they were informed enough to challenge the colonial masters. We need a deep foot to understand what is justice, to be just. Then you move from legal justice to social justice. Look, in the House of Representatives now the talk is how to buy cars for them, how to import those cars, is that how a country that is committed to development think? When we have children out of school you are talking of cars, the legislators, the governors they retire with a large chunk of money. Look at Sweden, look at British legislators drive their own cars, but here you have a retinue of staff, a legislator having six, seven aides, doing what? The majority of them can’t write, they can’t do anything, they are lazy, everything has to be done for them, do we have the resources for this kind of lifestyle, for this kind of indulgence? Anybody that is educated who does not look after the improvement of the lives of his people is an illiterate person. Some of the people in government are behaving like stark illiterates. As a leader, you must be thinking the people. Leadership should be seen as service to the people not as a place you enrich yourself as it happens here. Nigeria should be run like an emergency to develop. Our priority should be the people. Most Nigerians are on the fringes of existence. We are killing ourselves, no society can grow, no society can develop if it consumes what it does not produce, it is not going to last. We are not addressing substantive questions of development. Nigeria is a wasteful country I feel sad because I know we can do better than we are doing. We are not adding value to the productive system of technology, we are just mere consumers.