The senator representing Osun Central and spokesperson for the ninth Senate, Ajibola Basiru, tells TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN about his inability to win re-election and the polity
You lost your re-election bid to the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, do you plan to challenge the result at the tribunal?
No, I won’t go to court.
Does that mean you found the election to be free and fair or you chose to move on?
I choose to move on. The election was neither free nor fair. It was one that reported cases of voter intimidation, voter suppression and harassment. Ballot boxes were snatched from our strongholds particularly in Ila, Boripe and Orolu Local Government Areas. So, there were a lot of inadequacies in the election, but as a matter of choice, I don’t think going to court is what I want to do. For me, being in politics is about service. There are a lot of fault lines in our electoral justice system by which to establish such cases of brutalisation of voters, intimidation of supporters of our party and many more. When you report such cases, you will be told to prove it beyond reasonable doubts. That fault line encourages electoral heist. I only hope that the Nigerian law develops to a point that such acts will no longer be the order of the day. There was a re-enactment of brigandage, harassment and voter intimidation even in the House of Assembly election by the Peoples Democratic Party in Osun State.
What will be your next move?
I am a professional in politics. I have a lot of things I can do with my life and there are so many other things I can do to contribute to society. I can also develop my professional capacity. I am not a political jobber, so I don’t want to bother myself with dragging cases in court. In the past three years plus, I have given a true account of myself as a representative of the people. I have been able to impact many lives and bring about a lot of visible capital projects in terms of schools, rural electrification, water and so on. Going forward, I look forward to more meaningful contributions both in the public and private spheres.
You spoke about voter intimidation, harassment and other irregularities, but one of the major achievements of the ninth Assembly, as frequently referenced by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, is the passage of the Electoral Act. Would you say there were pitfalls in the act?
Of course, the Electoral Act is not the only law or the governing regime that governs the election. There is the Evidence Law and others. For instance, if a person commits a crime in an election, the Evidence Law requires that you prove it beyond reasonable doubt and prove that the winner of the election was the one who benefitted from it. For me, the threshold of proof is still very high, it’s still one of the inadequacies of our law. Of course, you also have judicial decisions which have not been affected by our legislation. It states that when you allege infractions, you must prove it on a unit-by-unit basis and that is why those that are challenging the presidential election have a huge task of proving it. You can’t just say an election in a state was bad; you have to be able to prove on a unit-by-unit basis where elections were affected. In Nigeria, you have about 176,000 polling units and in Osun Central alone, you have about 1,392 polling units and you have only 14 days to do this. So, there is a need for a lot of improvement in the law on electoral justice. However, there are lots of improvements, in terms of the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System. But we also know that during this election, BVAS machines were bypassed and there were also incidents of over-voting which led to cancellations. Also, what we discovered was that some unscrupulous elements were using the BVAS to negatively affect elections in the stronghold of their opponents. What they did was to influence the Youth Corp members who worked for the Independent National Electoral Commission to add one or two more ballot papers in such strongholds so that it would lead to overvoting.
Have you proven this to be true?
How does one account for a situation whereby our people were accredited and there were just about one or two non-accredited voters in the result. It showed that it was a deliberate ploy to destroy the election results in the unit. As I earlier mentioned, ballot papers were snatched at our strongholds like Ila and of course the results were usually not counted. So, we cannot say there was a free and fair election in an atmosphere of voter intimidation and outright breakdown of law and order. That is some states are still undecided. So, yes we are improving but we are not there yet and politicians need to stop seeing politics as a ‘do or die’ affair. The kind of violence and brigandage unleashed by the PDP in Osun is mind-boggling and this makes me question if politics is really for service, governance or some people’s personal aggrandisement.
Beyond Osun politics, what’s your general appraisal of the elections?
I think there are positives and negatives. I meant positive in the sense that gradually it has taken away the atmosphere of violence, voter intimidation, suppression, and of course outright act of brigandage, even leading to the kidnap of electoral officers. There may be a movement towards the point where those other fault lines are taken care of and the votes of the people will really count. In terms of the negatives, you would see the accentuation of religious and ethnic differences in the country and this does not augur well. It’s sad that after 60 years of independence, elections will not be based on likely performance but on where people come from or which religion they profess, or whether a vice-presidential candidate is of one religion or the other. It is also mind-boggling when during the elections religious leaders of all religions take politics to the pulpit and when ethnic fault lines become more pronounced. For instance, I found it intriguing when I looked at the performance of our party, the All Progressives Congress, in the South-East. For example, in Imo State, our party won two senatorial seats whereas the Labour Party won one, yet our presidential candidate, perhaps because he is not from that side of the country, didn’t get up to 10,000 votes. The same thing happened in Abia State where the Senate Chief Whip (Orji Uzor Kalu) got over 30,000 votes to win his senatorial bid while the presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu did not get up to 8,000 votes. So, this will make you ask questions like, was ethnicity more important to people than a person’s track record?
All the major parties seem to have alleged these religious and ethnic sentiments where they lost.
We have reported cases of outright voter intimidation of our party supporters in the South-East. Even hapless APC supporters were forced to vote for candidates that came from that part of the country. So, you ask yourself, in other parts of the country, the three candidates performed well but the candidates who are not from the South-East performed abysmally in the region. Even outside the South-East, the issue of religion also played a part. For instance in Plateau State, where it appeared that it was an agenda of a particular religion that actually trumped the issue of competence and acceptability of a particular religion. But, just as Asiwaju said, elections are over and it is time to heal. However, we must heal very fast so that we don’t accentuate the fault lines of this election, else it won’t allow us to get the benefit of the diversity of our ethnicity and religion.
Do you think the monetary policy helped to fight vote-buying during the election?
There appears to be a misconception by those that did the monetisation policy that only cash can be used to induce voters. A lot of devices were put up to induce voters; credit cards were issued, and even outright food items were shared. Money was also transferred to people while in the queue at the polling units. These are part of what I know transpired in my state and we witnessed situations whereby voters were induced even days before the election. People’s accounts were credited with money so that they would vote for them. So, the untold hardship inflicted on the generality of Nigerians was not even worth it. At the end of the day, the elections still witnessed massive inducement of voters across party lines. So, if the intention of those that instigated the cash scarcity was to prevent vote buying, I think they have failed abysmally. They have inflicted untold hardship on a lot of Nigerians. Even politicians don’t have cash contrary to the impression that cash was kept somewhere. From the report we have, inflation is still going up. Money doesn’t have to be in physical cash, so people still engaged in vote-buying and inducement notwithstanding the cash policy. It is also sad that it was during the period of an election that the problem of fuel scarcity also became accentuated. So, one hopes that before President Muhammadu Buhari rounds off his administration, he will take the bull by the horns by liberalising the oil and gas sector and allow the subsidy to be removed because that is one of the areas affecting development in the country.
The Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, filed a suit against Tinubu’s victory. Do you think he stands a chance considering the prayers in the suit?
I’m not a prophet and I don’t have the power of clairvoyance. Generally, I will refrain from making comments on the disputes already submitted before the court. I am also a politician of the APC stock, so whatever opinion I give will be said to be tainted. But as a legal practitioner, I have read the petition and I still wish to see how the petition can see the light of the day. There were so many potholes in it. There were even typographical errors in the prayers. It makes me wonder if it was because of the time factor. Politics may ride on sentiments but law and litigation do not ride on sentiment. Reading through the petition, it shows that there are a lot of issues that are more political sentiments and if I may use the word political blackmail; they are not really issues that are germane.
Looking at what some people describe as the Labour Party tsunami in the last elections, do you think the Obidient movement was underrated by politicians?
There is no tsunami anywhere. They had like seven out of 109 seats in the Senate and you call that a tsunami. See, there is a lot of hype around Peter Obi and the Labour Party and you must be able to separate the hype from the reality. When you talk of the percentage of seven out of the 109 and even when you look at the seven, some of them are politicians that used to belong to either the APC or the PDP but had to move to LP because they couldn’t get a ticket from their parties. For instance, Senator Francis Onyewuchi, (Imo East) is a sitting PDP senator, but when he couldn’t get the ticket, he moved to another political party. Also, Ireti Kingibe has always been a politician of the APC stock. We need to investigate more rather than get on the bandwagon. Also, a party that got up to six million votes in the presidential election didn’t get close to one million votes about three weeks after. So for me, the Labour Party is a special purpose vehicle to realise the ambition of Peter Obi and once that was not realised, he didn’t even go around to galvanise votes or support for many of the party’s governorship or House of Assembly candidates. In fact, he even used those who invested their hopes and political aspirations in him. That will not happen when you are really invested in service and change. The whole mantra is based on religious and ethnic sentiments. Another lie he told was that most of the youths voted for him. I don’t know where he conducted the census, but if someone was beaten by two million votes and the statistics show that the youth has the highest population of voters. So, the candidate the youths voted for was Asiwaju Tinubu. But when you base your popularity and acceptability on polls or an electronic platform that can be manipulated easily, the reality on the ground shows that the Labour Party is not there at all. Alex Otti, who won the Abia State governorship election, had been in the Labour Party long before Peter Obi joined the party. So, calling the Peter Obi movement a Tsunami is a joke and a concept in their head and not a reality