Former Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, shares his thoughts with DIRISU YAKUBU on new Electoral Act, 2023 general elections, among other issues
The 2023 elections are barely two months away. What is your general assessment of the political parties in terms of the manifestoes so far unveiled?
I have said it over and over again that because there is a national consensus on challenges, but multi-party democracy provides platforms which are expected to represent distinct methods of addressing the national concerns as reflected in the manifestos which the political parties and candidates use to canvass for electoral mandate needed for execution. In our own case, the national consensus on the challenges is still in the area of corruption which has stolen the empowerment, opportunity and future of many Nigerians. Because of corruption, many have been denied their daily bread, their livelihood and even family lives. So, it is a vice that must be stamped out of our national reckoning.
We still face security challenges across Nigeria and also poverty that comes with unemployment and ignorance. The next challenges are how best to address infrastructural deficit in the country. We, therefore, expect the political parties and their candidates to let Nigerians know how best they intend to tackle these challenges. They should be specific about their priorities.
Restructuring has been one area some people have talked about as a way of addressing the national concerns. This is the time the political parties should use and tell Nigerians how best to restructure the country for optimal performance. If they do not dwell on this subject and be specific, it means the political parties and their candidates know our problems are not in the structure of the country but in our values, which require rewiring the politics, re-engineering our sense of justice, and build hope for the youths.
I do sincerely hope that 2023 will usher in a leader Nigeria will be proud of, someone who knows his onions, decisive and ready to harness our creative potentials for the good of the society. It is painful to see countries that cannot match us intellect for intellect and resources for resources, doing better than us. We need solutions fast and we do hope we will get it right this time. The parties should come up with comprehensible strategy that even a barely educated man will understand when he listens to these candidates speak during town hall meetings, campaigns and what have you. Manifestoes should be broken down into simple terms on how to fix project Nigeria. It is not about how sweet the language they have written is; but how feasible their implementation is.
The new Electoral Act has been hailed as the game changer. What part of its provisions are you most impressed with?
I like the areas which legalise card readers now called Biometric Voter Accreditation System for accreditation of voters and transmission of results directly from the polling units. This will prevent irregularities like snatching of ballot boxes and thumb printing of ballot papers. My only fear is the challenges posed by network coverage which is reported to cover only about half of the country. I do not know what method the Independent National Electoral Commission will use in areas where the network coverage is weak or non- existent. I express this concern because those of us who travel by road pass through many areas and communities where network is weak or non-existent and calls or Short Message Service are not possible. We just pray INEC will overcome such challenges and deliver on its mandate to conduct free, fair and credible elections.
Everyone is talking about the Electoral Act. Beautiful as the provisions are, we must all resolve to make it work. Elections are not a do or die affair matters. History is filled with men who contested elections and lost many times until they finally got it. Our dear President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), is one of such leaders. So, I urge those that are fated to win to go out there and work for the masses while the losers should remain consistent because at God’s appointed time, they will win too.
The South-East is one zone that has yet to produce the President of Nigeria since the return to democracy in 1999. Some analysts think the Igbo are to blame for their troubles. How do you think the Igbo nation can win the solidarity of other ethnic groups to clinch the highest office?
When people talk of rotation of political offices and limit it to the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba, they ignore the fact that Nigeria is made up of about 371 ethnic nationalities some of which have not produced even a minister or governor. The Igbo being talked about have occupied almost every political position after the war except the Office of the President. Igbo are represented in every regime by at least five ministers in the government.
Yes, Igbo have the right to canvass for the position of the President, but it should not be because they have not produced the president in the current democratic epoch. An Igbo presidential candidate and his party should let Nigeria know how best he can bring about order, justice, liberty, common decency, peace and prosperity for all. That should be its winning game plan as against politics of identity of “it is the turn of Igbo” to produce the president which seeks to promote cleavages of the nation along ethnic lines. Take a look at the United States of America where the Vice President, Kamala Harris, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and minority leader, Kevin McCarthy; all came from California. The next speaker will also come from California. No qualm whatsoever besides holding them to account for their performance.
Whoever is elected President of Nigeria must strive to make a difference in terms of service delivery. If we have leaders totally committed to good governance, I think politics of ethnicity will take a back seat. There are Nigerians who are not bothered about the tribes that produce the governors. They just want a leader they can count on to deliver the goods.
Politics is about negotiation, intense lobby. Nobody gets anything in politics by threatening. Because the game is about people, you need to build bridges. To be governor of a state, you need to extend a hand of fellowship across the three senatorial districts. To be President, you need to reach out, cultivate friendship everywhere and sustain your message with which you intend to woo the electorate. When you keep up with this consistently, your chances of success will remain bright.
The military has been recording modest successes in the war against terrorism in recent times. Will you say this is due to proactive strategies or what will you attribute this to?
To overcome and contain activities of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, gunmen, clashes between farmers and herders require long term planning and strategies. For example, to procure Tucano jets took time, both in sourcing for money and the placement of the orders. I therefore believe it was a matter of time needed for planning and execution. I do believe too that our gallant troops have been more proactive these days compared to times when virtually everyone saw them as reactionary forces. By taking the battle to the criminal elements in their hideouts, they have won the hearts of many. To sustain this, people have to volunteer more information to our men because security is everybody’s business.
Many Nigerians are of the opinion that old breed politicians should give way to young emerging leaders, arguing that the old ones are part of the reasons the country is where it is today. What is your take on this?
Who are the Nigerians you have referenced? Opinions of few elite should not be ascribed to most Nigerians. The current presidential candidates are Nigerians and not from the moon. Multi-party democracy allows voters to elect leaders of their choice. Let the Nigerians make judicious use of their democratic rights and ensure votes count so the ensuing leaders will be accountable. Experience is not an article of trade you pick over the counter. Let us not forget that. Some of those aspiring to be president today were once governors or senators. It is good that the young ones are throwing their hats in the ring to vie for elective offices. But there can only be one President at a time. You don’t necessarily have to start from the top. It takes time build a nationwide followership that can translate to votes on a massive scale to win national elections like that of the Office of the President.
The Northern Elders Consultative Forum recently threw its weight behind Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party. Were you part of that group? Was the ACF part of that decision?
No, I was not part of the group. The ACF is not part of the group and in any case, the ACF does not endorse candidates. The simple reason for this is that the forum comprises of members from different political parties and political stripes. This is not an odd thing to say, especially when regard is paid to the fact that when it comes to partisan politics, the North hardly speaks with one voice. We saw this during First and Second Republics and in the current dispensation. That explains why ACF is political but not partisan.
There is always the tendency to think that once a group speaks in the North, such a position is shared by every northerner. This is far from the truth. In some families, you can see some supporting the All Progressives Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party, Peoples Redemption Party, African Action Alliance, Social Democratic Party and what have you. Siblings in the North can agree on many things but they can disagree politically. So, whatever the group you mentioned did was and is their business. It is their right to support whoever they like but don’t bring ACF to the fray because we were not part of it. The North should not be seen as a bloc where every eligible voter queues behind the same candidate for the purposes of election. Ideologically, some are right-centric, others are left-centric and you find others that you can’t even place where they belong. I think this is also true of the South.
What is your assessment of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration which will be winding down in May next year?
President Buhari has done his best with limited resources at his disposal by consigning Boko Haram to the fringes of the North-East, by fighting corruption using both preventive and punitive measures and has been trying to diversify the economy away from oil wealth which is not result of hard work. I am sure a well-informed trend and cross analyses of the administration will give President Buhari some pass mark. It is left for the incoming administration to improve upon what it will inherit. This is because the good things of life are never exhaustible but are attained by ceaseless hard work by both leaders and the led. Nation building is work in progress; a journey and not a destination.
The Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC, many argued, does not reflect the diversity of the nation’s multi-faith reality. You are a Christian. Does it mean the North has no Christian leader with the pedigree of Kashim Shettima to have run with Bola Tinubu?
I did not like Muslim-Muslim ticket not for reasons of electability, considering APC can prevail in the elections with any combinations, but because I thought such a ticket would provide those who allege Islamisation agenda against the regime with fodder to fight the current administration. The APC did its political arithmetic and winning game plan and arrived at a conclusion that because Christians control only three states of Benue, Plateau and Taraba out of 19 northern states, a Muslim- Muslim ticket would have more electoral values. And now that the ticket will most likely prevail, we hope it has taken note of the controversies trailing the same faith ticket and will work hard in order to render politics of identity irrelevant through good governance that is fair and just in distribution of access to national resources of employment, appointments, projects and major contracts.
Crude oil was recently discovered in the North. What are the developmental challenges you like to see addressed in Gombe, Bauchi states where this product was found?
Now that the oil has been discovered in the North, we pray the resource will no longer be used to threaten the unity of Nigeria through agitations against already settled issues. It should make Nigerians come together and use oil wealth to bring about balanced development of the country. We do sincerely hope the discovery will make us realise that our developmental challenges are the same. The South needs good education, access to health care, job opportunities like the North. We are better off staying as one rather than pushing for separate identities as has been the case in the past. Nigeria is not for a special group of individuals or groups but a nation where everyone regardless of status, faith or ethnic background has equal stake.
What fears do you have for the 2023 polls and how do you think they can be addressed?
I have no fears for the 2023 polls because Nigeria conducted elections in 2011 and 2015 when the insecurity was at its worst. Now that insecurity has been reduced substantially, there should be no fears for the polls to take place successfully. I call on the players, by this, I mean the politicians to take life easy. Elections are processes of selecting leaders at the various governance levels. Elections are not wars. Nobody deserves to die because of elections. Like I said before, if you lose in a free and fair contest, learn from your defeat and return in the next election cycle. Not everyone who attempted the first time gets it. Once they imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship, elections will come and go without anyone noticing the hype around them.
The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor, Thursday, said the military was under pressure to compromise the 2023 elections. What is the implication of this confession on the polls?
There is nothing new in vested interests trying to get what they want through undue pressure. We saw how the Joint Chief of Staff in America asked the military to clear from him any directive from President Donald Trump who was the Commander-in- Chief. We also saw how President Trump pressured the Secretary of State in Georgia to look for votes that could change the results of the elections in his favour. There are pressures in all democracies. You saw how the then administration of President Goodluck Jonathan complained that they were rigged out by the opposition party in 2015.
Till now, we still hear former President Trump crying foul that his victory was stolen by the opposition. That means pressures and complaints are natural in multi-party democracy. The implications of the revelations by the Chief of Defence, General Irabor is that the military as an institution will not do anything to undermine our democracy. So, all Nigeria can do is to strengthen the multi-party democracy through building of sturdy democratic institutions that are strong enough to resist the whims and caprices of powerful individuals.
We must be resilient enough as citizens to call on whoever is pressuring the military to compromise the polls to stay away from our darling democracy. The military itself must resist the temptation to be used to play any role that is far from noble in the 2023 polls. I agree completely with Nigerians who say we must get it right this time. We cannot continue to talk of our potential as a nation. It is time to utilise our endowments and take our place among the comity of advanced nations. Yes, the journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s get it started now! Like President Barack Obama will say, we can!
Recently, the Federal Government blamed state governments for the poverty in the land. But state governors were quick to return the blame to the doorstep of the Federal Government. Which of these tiers of government deserves a bigger share of the blame in your opinion?
All the three tiers of government are in place to deliver on the promise of their electoral mandate which include order, justice, liberty, peace and prosperity for all. Their responsibilities are spelt out in the constitution. The revenues are shared for the three tiers of government to deliver on the dividends of democracy. The Federal Government collects 52% while state and local governments collect 48%. They should account to the people proportionally. I don’t see the reason for the blame game. All tiers of government have an explanation on what they have been able to do with the resources at their disposal to better the lot of the people. Beyond payment of salaries, what have they done in terms of capital projects development? Did they create jobs to alleviate poverty?
There have been calls for the reduction of the number of political parties in the country. Apart from the APC, PDP, APGA, SDP, LP and the YPP, some of these political parties have not been able to justify their registration. Should the number of parties be limited to just five or thereabouts?
The number of political parties is unwieldy. As a result, Nigerians do not know what they stand for, let alone what they promote. Even the majority of the elite and the politicians do not know most of the political parties. I prefer a two-party system which will make defections difficult. At most, the political parties should be three-one, a little to the left, one, a little to the right while the third is the centre. You could see the strength of the National Republic Convention and the Social Democratic Party in the botched Third Republic. Both parties won many governorship seats, federal parliamentary seats and what have you.
Political parties should not just exist on the pages of newspapers, with some of them struggling to justify their existence. Apart from the big five, we hear of others now because elections are around the corner. Once elections are over, you are likely not going to hear much about them until 2027 when the nation will again do another exercise. This is not how to develop the political system because the strength of a political system is not determined by the number of political parties operating in that system.
What is your advice to voters as they file out to cast their ballots in 2023?
If voters want leaders to account to them, then, they should prevent vote-buying and make judicious use of their democratic right and ensure their votes count so that the ensuing leaders will be accountable to them. They should not sell their votes because they will lack the moral fibre to complain when things go wrong. They should not vote on the basis of ethnicity or religion. They should look at the candidates and make decisions based on their ability to perform. Nigerians should take a look at the records of these leaders who are asking for their votes and trust. What did they do with power when they were in office? How did they work with the power given to them in the past? These are some of the questions voters should ask themselves before casting their votes.