Olisa Agbakoba

Kogi election is here and that of Bayelsa State is also near but all Nigerians know are the two major parties, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party and their candidates. How healthy is this for our democracy?

It is a process. You cannot cook democracy overnight; you cannot force it. It evolves and development is tied to things like democracy, education, literacy, which are concepts people don’t understand. So Nigeria is actually a feudal state masquerading as the ideals of rule of law and democracy. But it is not. It is a highly, cultural, feudal, traditional system, where we still rightly or wrongly glorify traditional institutions.

So we are absolutely a feudal non-democratic society, forced by western concepts of rule of law to go the way we are going. It is more like Christianity, which is not in our DNA. Our DNA is highly cultural and traditional. So if you look into very many families and scratch deep, you will find traditional practice masquerading as the context of Christian and Muslim worship. So this is not a democratic society.

But we now see that democracy is the tool of power. There was a time when it was fashionable to use a military coup as a tool of power. People were killing themselves to be officers but there is no glamour in that again because it is no longer fashionable. It will take roots which could take up to 100 years when you cannot see a guy on the street begging. Then you will see waves of protests by people because of the values they espouse.

The streets will be full of Nigerians saying we don’t want this or that because it is wrong. In Europe, you see that protests are easily organised, but it is not so here. People quickly run to the ruling party here. So today, it is sexy to talk about the APC, but don’t forget that just about six months ago, it was all about the PDP. And that is because the APC has the presidency. So that is why contest is as narrow as it is.

Why is it so difficult for the electorate to vote for other parties in Nigeria even if they have come up with agendas that are better than what the two strongest parties are offering?

The electorate is uninformed which is what I’m telling you. An electorate has to be educated to be able to make choices. If our poverty level is running at about 75 per cent in the country, and unemployment rate is about 50-60 per cent, and the average daily income or the daily disposable income of a Nigerian is between N100 and N300, he can’t make any choice. He is going to be swayed by money. So there is a traditional net to which everyone belongs. For instance, you will hear people say the traditional ruler says we should close down this place. So such decisions are made in that way. Even religious leaders have an influence; they drive the choice. That is not democracy.

At what stage can we say that now we have a true democracy?

Look everywhere, people are poor, they have no money, they have no choices, they steal, they are incompetent and the system makes Nigerians to steal. A Nigerian can kill his mother and do anything for money, let’s speak the truth. So how do you expect that to throw up choices? How many people can say to a governor that ‘I don’t like you and will not vote for you?’ Nobody!

The PDP government in Kogi State has accused the APC and the CBN of intentionally delaying the release of bailout to the state to frustrate its government and make it unpopular. What do you make of this kind of politics if the allegations are true?

I’m not interested in such questions. All these schemes are for power and money, you have to understand that. I just told you that when the scheme was to be a colonel and become a governor, it was the fashionable thing. It is about power. For instance, if it is true that Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) awarded all those contracts knowing full well that we needed arms and ammunition to fight Boko Haram, it tells you the level to which we have fallen. I don’t know that most Nigerian politicians, with respect to them, are doing anything for altruism. So everything you hear about one man fighting another man is not to develop the place, it is just access to wealth. So whether you give me the Kogi example or any other example, you will find out that it comes down to the same thing. How can I access power and use it to my benefit? That is the bottom line of Nigerian politics, so I’m not interested in your Kogi scenario.

I was asking because of the workers because they are the ones bearing the brunt of it all.

Who cares about the workers? When does the political class ever care about anybody? If they cared, why is the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway the way it is? If they cared, why is the Onitsha-Enugu Road like that? I was 34 years old when government started saying it would fix it, but up till today when I’m 62, it’s not been fixed. There have been many talks coming from Abuja about schemes and award of contracts that government would award it to this company or that company, but the next Minister of Transport came, the next Minister of Works came and it is still not finished. It is the same with the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, so who is fooling who? We have to tell ourselves the truth. The political class is unaccountable to the electorate because the electorate is too illiterate and uneducated to make demands. That is the problem.

How can the electorate get themselves out of this situation you have described?

How many of us can make informed decisions? If there are 70 million Nigerians on the electoral poll, how many of them can do that? And you have to look at demography to determine that. How many Nigerians are well off? How many are educated? I suggest to you that they are less than five per cent. To get to a stage where the electorate can make informed decisions and hold the leaders accountable is to look at the number of many years it will take to train our people. It will take about 30 years. You cannot create a literate electorate overnight. The decline is so deep that even if you give birth to the best political leader, it will take at least, 30 years to create a viable educated society because of the decay. If you go to the schools, they are rubbish. You cannot have an educated electorate before 30 years because they have to be trained and that means they have to go to school and have jobs. All we can do now is to stop the decline.

Let us have schools with competent teachers and where students pass well. When they pass well, they go out and get jobs. Then they will have their independent minds and depend on nobody. They have keys to their flats, to go in and out as they please. When nobody pays them, they can make that choice, and not before that. So I give that a long time.

The level of information available to Nigerians before the Ekiti and Osun states’ governorship elections was better than what we have now with the Kogi election. Does it mean that the Independent National Electoral Commission is not well prepared for this election?

I think it is because the new man came in rather late. So I think the election is happening so soon after the big one. But most importantly, it is that INEC was depleted of its relevant resources and so it is not up to speed. There is no question, when you have just appointed the INEC Chairman (Prof. Mahmud Yakubu) two or three weeks ago, there is no way you can say that INEC is at a peak condition. So that may be the reason why there is a seeming lack of preparedness because as usual, it is do or die affair for politicians. The politicians can kill anybody to get to power.

So what are your expectations for the Kogi and Bayelsa elections?

It will be the same as usual because expectations in Nigeria are too low. I don’t know whether expectation is the right word. I just hope that the elections will be concluded without unusual violence. Expectations will be the usual nightmare. INEC materials will come late; there will be accusations of rigging or no rigging and the losers will go to court. So what am I going to expect? I’m not excited. Nigeria doesn’t excite me. It doesn’t unless Buhari is going to surprise me. I’m looking forward to that and waiting to be surprised. I’m so used to expectations that I would rather not expect (anything). The nation is too strong at the centre and too weak at the bottom, so just rearrange power so that a lot of things the federal people do will be done at the state level. It will free a lot of the resources so that state or a combination of states will get the action going. While we wait for the educated electorate to come in the next 30 years, we can be doing something to sort out our backwardness. I find it a disgrace that I live in the prime part of Nigeria- Ikoyi and I have no water. It is unbelievable. How can that be? By all parameters, Nigeria is really underdeveloped. You ask why all the resources are not being put to good use. So on the one hand, you have the electorate that is not educated or informed and so cannot make strong choices. On the other hand, you have a political class that are educated and can make good choices for them but which are not doing that.

You said earlier that unless Buhari surprises you. What would surprise you?

Leadership! Just basic things. National Health Insurance Scheme is a no-brainer. All you need to do is to say that all Nigerians are compulsorily required to have health insurance. It could be from N1,000 to N5,000 to N10,000, then people can make a choice of what they want up to N50,000 and so on. The NHIS we have now is not working.

Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) once described the INEC as not properly constituted at the time it fixed dates for the Kogi and Bayelsa elections. Do you also foresee the losers challenging the outcomes of the elections in court based on this?

Yes, of course, every loser goes to court. I have been involved in election petitions for, at least, 15 years and I have seen all manner of excuses when a loser loses. Most losers look for an excuse. I hope that there will be no constitutional issue. I don’t know the subject very well so I cannot make any comments on it. But I do hope that when a loser loses, he does not try to pull the house down. A loser gets two votes and then because voting started at 10am rather than 9am, he wants to go to court. If you keep complaining about every little thing, then there will be no elections. Elections are subject to all kinds of factors; so long as the issue in question is not one that will be fundamentally glaring and make people say ‘No, this is wrong’, we should let it go. And the reason they do that is because of their desperation. People sell their houses and borrow money, so they just can’t accept that they have lost because between them and their loss is the tribunal. And if the tribunal overturns the election, they will go and borrow money, not considering if they will win if they go for a rerun.

The reason is that a lot a of people see a Mr. No Good suddenly become a commissioner under Governor Idiot and his life changes, so they say ‘I have to be like that too.’ Then they don’t want to go to school. Why should I go to school for seven years and then start looking for a job when I can become a thug or an agent to one politician, break heads here and there and my boss makes me special adviser on media, SA on communication or SA on ‘Find me girlfriend’. Let us put a peg on what political office holders can earn with no emoluments and see the situation change. Give them no car and no house. People who say they want to be members of parliament should go and look for their own accommodation in Abuja. But now, government will build a multibillion naira estate and when a senator is leaving, it is sold to him. Why won’t I be tempted to go there too?

The PDP recently accused the President of trying to rig the Kogi election after it was learnt that he met with senior INEC officials and some security operatives. Some people wonder if it is right for the President to be holding such meetings at this time.

If the meeting was an open meeting, it means it was harmless. I don’t see what is wrong especially if it was open where the president reminded the INEC officials of the need to do their jobs in an impartial way. If it had been a hidden meeting that was unearthed by the media, that is different.

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