“I hate to talk ethnic politics at this level. As I said, the candidate is not yet settled. Leaders in the Southern and Middle Belt are still working on it.”
All things being equal, campaign for the 2019 general election will start on November 18. Ahead of the exercise, a notable member of Afenifere, Prof Stephen Adebanji Akintoye, revealed to Sunday Sun the inside story of how Southern and Middle Belt Forum resolved to work together for a common candidate against President Muhammadu Buhari in the coming election.
What is your projection for the 2019 general elections?
There is no prospect for a peaceful election. Philosophy or ideology for development is no longer there. All that everybody is doing is ganging up together in order to position themselves to share the national cake. People are becoming very desperate. Desperation is mounting to high heaven. People are now ready to kill and be killed in the process of looking for power. The whole system is so obviously and violently crooked that it is very difficult for anybody to project for a peaceful election. Ordinarily, in a situation that we have reached now, a president who has got his country violently divided as Buhari has gotten Nigeria ought to have the patriotism and the loyalty to tell his party that he will not contest again in 2019. But he is not going to step down because he has an agenda that he is carrying out which has nothing to do with Nigeria. Already, cattle herders who are killing around the country are threatening politicians who are opposed to Buhari. So, it is no longer going to be a question of political parties and their thugs; it will be a whole army taking part in the election in one direction or the other. So, it is not going to be a peaceful election.
There has always been apprehension about the unity of the country each time election is coming like this. With this scenario that you have painted, will there still be an entity called Nigeria after the 2019 general election?
You are asking a question that touches my heart very deeply. I love Nigeria. I was raised to love Nigeria. I went to school at a time when the dominant tendency was to teach young people sitting in classrooms all over the country about Nigeria and how to love their country. We used to say proudly among ourselves that our country was going to be the black man’s world power of the modern times. But one must live to accept the realities as they come. The reality of today is that Nigeria is not making it. Nigeria has descended far down. Poverty is intensifying ferociously all over Nigeria. Nigeria is now rated extreme poverty capital of the world. The United Nations report says that Nigerians are the poorest in matters of access to electricity, purified water, good communication and transportation and good public service in the world. Nigeria Bureau of Statistics also says that about 70 percent of Nigerians live in absolute poverty. So, it doesn’t look we can make success of Nigeria.
Some people make restructuring look as if it is the means and end to development. Beyond issue of restructuring, what other things do you think should be in the front burner as campaign manifesto by political parties?
One thing is that we do need to have restructuring. All this accumulation of powers and resource control in the hand of the Federal Government is weird. It is surprising that any group of thinking human beings would ever dare to think of a thing like that. It cannot hold; we have to restructure the country. So, restructuring is a good idea. In fairness to one of the candidates, Atiku, he’s been talking of restructuring for a long time and he is talking more and more convincingly about it. He is one candidate out there who has a clear message about restructuring today. But my fear is that we have reached a point at which even restructuring is something too late and too little. I think we have come to that.
Then, what should be the main issues of campaign for this election?
Revival of this country! That is a more meaningful message than change. Restructuring is part of it, but it is not all of it. Restructuring is a baseline from which to reorganize further. Two, we need to do something about laws that guide democratic politics in our country. The law should compel any individual seeking to be elected in our land to go and study very well before he would ever dare to stand before Nigerians to canvass for votes. Then, we need to return to the rules that existed in British colonial times until January 1966. We need to revive the law that guided the management of public resources so that it is not the man in charge of power who is in charge of the money of the state. That is the way it used to be in the 1950s and early 1960s. Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Azikiwe of this world as premiers of the three regions could not put hands into their regional purse to take money to spend. How money should be disbursed was laid down in meticulous details and they observed the procedure before the money could be touched. Besides, we need a situation in which we must return the private institutions back to the owners. When they took over schools from owners and invested them in the Federal Government, they destroyed our education system. We must return the universities that were built by the regions back to the people who built them. So, it is not just restructuring of taking power from the Federal Government and giving it to the regions or the state. We must go to the core of the matter. The Federal Government is building universities because money is at the centre, but they have no idea of what the university is all about. They are kidding with the future of our children. We need a total revamping, a total revival of this country. I know it can work, if we do it sincerely. But have we built the type of minds that can do those things sincerely? The answer is no. That is where the real fear comes.
This government came in with a three-point agenda: economy, security and corruption. How has Nigeria fared in these areas in the last three and half years?
We were promised improvement of the economy, but we now know that the person for whom that claim was being made has no clue at all about what an economy is. The ultimate leader may not have a clue, but he should have the common sense to bring other people who have ideas into government and make them do the work in his name. We elected somebody who doesn’t want that. Even the party that got him elected was ejected from the house immediately the election was over. So, the management of the economy has fallen abysmally low and confidence has disappeared both here in Nigeria and abroad. People abroad are looking at us with wonder, wondering what is happening. The general opinion in the world is that Nigeria cannot be helped. Again, insecurity has grown in various forms. Fulani herdsmen and their agenda of conquering have multiplied security problems in our land in the past three and a half years under Buhari. Boko Haram was troublesome, but it was limited to some certain areas. No part of Nigeria is free from them. When Buhari was installed, he talked convincingly about corruption. But the truth is that Buhari has no idea of what corruption is all about. Not only that public money is being stolen, companies are also suffering of corruption from their employees. Corruption has become the psychological make up of Nigeria. No Nigerian now thinks he can do a decent job without having to steal part of the resources involved in that job. The world is afraid to do business with Nigeria because of corruption. We have created monstrosity. While Buhari goes about chasing people who had made it in the past, the people in his government are stealing money. So, Buhari has done nothing to bring corruption down.
Which of the two leading candidates do you consider a better choice in the present circumstance?
In the present circumstance, if we will be free to vote, which I doubt, I will say first of all, Buhari should not win again. I will say Buhari should get his own vote and the votes of his own little family. He has destroyed our country. If he is rejected and nobody votes for him, then, of course, the other person will win. I think it is not about who will win and who will lose. I want Buhari to lose in the interest of Nigeria.
Immediately Atiku Abubakar emerged the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and paid Obasanjo a visit, Afenifere followed it up by endorsing his candidature…
(Cuts in)… No, this is what happened. Afenifere belongs to the Southern and Middle Belt Forum which is made up of leaders of the South-South in PANDEF, leaders of Southeast in Ohanaeze Ndigbo, leader of the Southwest in Afenifere and leaders of Middle Belt in Middle Belt Forum. All these leaders are interested in who rules this country. They are particularly worried about Buhari and how he can be peacefully sent back home so that we can begin to put together the broken pieces of our country. The primary desire is to join hands together to produce one candidate against Buhari so that we can all decisively and resoundingly send him home. In that regards, each leadership group in the Southern and Middle Belt Forum began to make itself available to receiving and talking to candidates. So, it is not only Afenifere who did that, it is just that Afenifere is the best known among these organizations. Secondly, at the final caucus of the Forum in Abuja, which we held in Chief Edwin Clark’s house, representatives of the four zones sat together and invited the candidates to come and tell us what they would do for Nigeria. So, it is not as if any group has endorsed any candidate. What we are working towards is for all opposition political parties to present a common candidate who will face Buhari in the coming election. Who that candidate will be, nobody is sure yet. Atiku is obviously the most prominent and more attractive to the press. But there are other credible Nigerians among the other candidates. What we are working at is to make all of these parties to present a common candidate. Who that candidate will be, we don’t know yet.
Either Buhari or Atiku, you are still dealing with Fulani in power. What difference will it make?
I hate to talk ethnic politics at this level. As I said, the candidate is not yet settled. Leaders in the Southern and Middle Belt are still working on it. If we do end up with Atiku, then we will have to sit down and negotiate. In this situation we are in, no Nigerian of any status will be allowed to walk into the presidency of Nigeria without a clear blueprint in his hands and in our hands about how Nigeria is going to be governed. We are not going to allow that any more. The kind of blank cheque Tinubu and co gave Buhari is no longer going to be possible in our land.