Jonathan has done what IBB couldn’t – Agbakoba | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Jonathan has done what IBB couldn’t – Agbakoba

Posted: Apr 5, 2015 at 4:09 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba, spoke with journalists, including SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, on the conduct of the March 28 presidential election, the national conference, and electoral issues. Excerpts:



The presidential election has come and gone. The candidate of the APC, Muhammadu Buhari has been declared winner and issued with Certificate of Return by INEC. What is your assessment of the whole issue?

We have had this election. Three days of no activity, which is not good. A country should not shut down mainly because we have election. But like I have always predicted, it came to pass. I remember the last conference that we had, I said nothing will happen. I was confident that there will be no violence as predicted. I was confident that INEC will not come in time. I was confident that the card reader will not work as it ought to work. But I was confident about the process. So, generally, I have been proved right. Let us not lament. The fact that Nigeria has not vanished is a plus. But who are the heroes and the villains?  Hero number one is a man that I saw on television and I saw that he was tremendously relieved. That is President Goodluck Jonathan. As a skilled legal psychologist, I can tell mood and swings. But that is not to say that he didn’t want to win.  IBB will be biting his fingers in Minna because the glory Jonathan has now taken is what IBB would have taken if he had left peacefully. What are you still doing after nine years in power? So, I had a feeling Jonathan asked himself a question ‘I have been in senior government office since 1999. I have given my best shot, it was a close race but I lost. Rather than wait for my supporters like Godsday Orubebe to mess me, I am out of the game. And that is why, for me, he is the number one hero. The second hero is INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega. If Orubebe in his behaviour had a response from Jega, we won’t be staying here. When I ran as NBA president in 2006 in Port Harcourt, when the voting came to a crucial crescendo, there was a blackout. So, I know what it is when you are counting votes and there is a crisis. The coolness, calmness and the serenity with which he did it resulted in the possibility of the election being concluded peacefully and accepted by everybody, even Jonathan accepted before the announcement was made. Let me go back to Jonathan to expand on why I think he is the number one hero. A dictator does not give space to his opponent. A dictator crushes the opposition. The fact that the APC which is the fourth hero for me was allowed to grow is a clear case. It is easy to say that Jonathan has no choice, but he has choices.  Mugabe has shown that he can easily decapitate the opposition. So, that is a very strong commendation for Jonathan. He allowed the democratic space to open. He allowed multi-party democracy and he allowed free elections. We have seen some Nigerian presidents not allowing it. We have seen how the NPN frustrated Chief Obafemi Awolowo from becoming president. We have seen how IBB did not allow the process to produce MKO Abiola. Political power in the hands of a mad man is a time bomb. So, give Jonathan the credit for being cool, calm and accepting defeat. Nigerians are the number three hero for the passion, the energy, the enthusiasm they show during the period of the election. The fourth hero is the institutionalized opposition. You cannot clap with one hand like MKO Abiola would say. So, the fact that there was a strong, credible, intelligent opposition like Fashola, Alake, Edun made it possible for APC to beat PDP. These were the thinkers. They were busy thinking while PDP was busy doing hate campaigns, which APC also did and we condemn it. But what I saw was an APC with a absolutely brilliant football team. The PDP was a weak football team with a weak manager and the results are very clear. So, those are the four heroes. But there are villains and that is what we need to get out of our politics. The biggest villain goes to the South East and the North West. It is incredible for Jonathan to have won the type of numbers in the South East. It is unbelievable. It doesn’t do the leaders of the South East any good neither does it do the leaders of the North West any good that Buhari scored the type of numbers. We need balanced voting like what we saw in South West. How can a man score like 99 percent? Is that the South East is shut out of the national equation?  That is not what we want. The villains are the leaders of the PDP from the South East that did not understand that balanced voting is critical. So, we hope that the April 11 elections that will take place to produce the gubernatorial process will be balanced. We want to see balanced voting everywhere. I want to see a robust count in Kaduna. I don’t want to see party A, 90Percent, party B, Zero. That is not voting.

What do you think was responsible for why we don’t have balanced voting?

Ethnicity is the cause. We need to get rid of that. That is the only pullback and that is why I identify it as villain.  The challenge for the APC government will be to build with what Jonathan started. This whole business of restructuring Nigeria, this whole business of settlers living in a place. Look at me, for instance, am I a Lagosian or an Onitsha man?  I have spent most of my life in Lagos and in Jos. Can I stand for election in Lagos? That is what we need to deal with. We want this coming election to reflect balanced voting. The problem with the PDP was that it got too confident because it was getting all the votes. So, we don’t want the APC to become the PDP and get all the votes. People should vote with their heads for the party they want but in a way that there is spread.

What will be your advice to the APC as regards the outcome of the national conference?

They should take it up. I was a member of the national conference and there were lots of challenges where you have 170 million Nigerians of different ethnic, linguistic and religious divide and backgrounds. But something has emerged from it. Who would have believed that the election would have gone peacefully the way it did? But it did. So, we can do it. The challenge for the APC is to begin to find a way, a common ground, that all Nigerians can live with so that in 2019, we won’t have this issue of unbalanced voting. It is not good for the system.

How optimistic are you about the Buhari government restructuring the country and what is your take on high cost of governance?

I do hope they do that. No doubt the country needs restructuring and I hope the APC will do that. On the high cost of governance, the APC government should decapitate the civil service. I think General Buhari has alluded to it. If people are coming to the national assembly with the view that they will receive the type of emolument they have received, let Buhari make it clear they won’t get it. And we need to take up the Oronsaye report. If you read that report, it rationalises out thirty percent of the civil service. So, the civil service is over-bloated and need to be cut down. Second advice I will give is that as our oil resources are dwindling, there are new areas of opportunity. One big area is the maritime sector. There is money in the maritime sector that is unbelievable. This is the largest port in the central West African zone but look at how it is, particularly as the government has declared a highly progressive social security policy of distributing benefits to deserving people. It has to look for the money. The third area where the government ought to be looking at is the counter-corruption problem. He has to absolutely dismantle the present framework and erect  a new one and let the message be made very clear that there would be a response by the government should a public servant be corrupt. When there is a perception that corruption will be severely punished, you will be very shocked that people will be in line.  But if there is no perception that corruption will not be severely punished people would misbehave.

Why do you think President Jonathan easily conceded defeat?

Because he was beaten. That is why he is a statesman and that is why I made him hero number one. Time inexorably moves. I remember when my mother died. It was just as if the whole world stopped. But I can talk about it now, three years down the line. So President Jonathan three years down the line, isn’t going to feel any loss because what is important in life is how you go out. So, in fact I will attribute to him the wisdom of Solomon of sitting calmly in his bedroom and saying ‘what do I do; what, do I call or do I wait? He had known that even if you add Borno the last state, I can’t win. So, he took the shine off General Buhari by calling and conceding at the point where no one believed because even some stations said it was reported until it was confirmed. So that is the reason why I make him hero number one in the entire electoral process. He made a very big call and he got it right.

Do you think the Buhari administration should run an all inclusive government? Some Nigerians are saying he should include some ministers who have performed creditably well in the outgoing administration in his cabinet, and that it should not just be an APC affair alone?

If I were General Buhari, I would pick the best professional team. I don’t care where you are from. As long as it complies with the constitution that we have, but I would pick the best ones. For instance, if there is any guy in the government that did well and he needs them to run through, why not?  It shouldn’t be a difficulty.

Governorship election is just a week away. Do you think we can practise this balanced voting in the election?

It’s a longer term thing. It will require discussions at the constitutional conference so that people begin to feel less place of origin.  Why do I have to write place of origin on forms? So the latter question is the constitution conference that you referred to.  But we can start now by demonstrating that balance voting is the way to go.  Balance voting is key.  I don’t accept that the South-East where I come from and am using that deliberately because that is where I come from should have voted 90 percent for Jonathan. It was the balance voting that Buhari got that made him win, not the high voting. So, ethnic voting didn’t help Jonathan. What helped Buhari was the consistent balanced voting in the middle between 40 and across the states but on the part of Jonathan the few the high graphs proved unhelpful. So, as a politician,  it makes sense for me to appeal to everybody. There isn’t any point appealing to Onitsha people where I come from, what about the other Nigerians? So, I would rather that I split my vote with my opponent in my town and split the vote with my opponent in his town and I win. It was the failure to understand balanced voting that caused PDP the election and the failure of my people of the South-East. That was why I and Pat Utomi and other people of the South-East said ‘enough is enough, let them go’.  It is time.  They should leave the scene and let us create new leaders who are prepared to be a part of the rainbow of democratic voting. That’s what we want, we want to be part of the rainbow, we don’t want to be outside the rainbow. And this is exactly what took Obama to the White House. If Obama had said he is a black man and that he is going to stay with the blacks alone, he would have lost. But he crafted his democratic voting in such a way that everybody felt included.

Are we going to see a repeat of what happened in Ekiti where Fayemi conceded, yet his party rejected the outcome of the poll by going to the tribunal?

The president of Nigeria said he has conceded. This is the type of confusion that we cause. The media also causes the confusion. A man who ran the election – PDP didn’t run the election. The man who ran said I have conceded defeat; so, no one should cause that confusion. If the PDP should go to court, they are on their own. I, as a lawyer, will not support the PDP going to court when the principal has said he is not going. Did you see that the petition in Ekiti wasn’t really strong because Fayemi’s heart was not in it and why is Fayemi today being celebrated? It was because of that concession. You can’t win all the time. God has blessed Jonathan to the point that he had been in office consistently since 1999. A man who was working in NNDC! When Jonathan was working in NNDC, I was long a SAN and I am still a SAN. From there he became Deputy Governor, Vice President, Acting President – One man! Absolutely, God has blessed him.