Alhaji Yabagi Sani, Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council has cautioned politicians to jealously guard the present democracy since they are the first casualties in the event of failure. In this interview, he said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has done everything to ensure the delivery of a credible, free and fair poll in 2023. TONY EZIMAKOR presents the excerpts…
We have barely three months to go to the 2023 general elections. How do you see the campaigns of the political parties? Are you really satisfied with what is going on?
Well, you know this is democracy and democracy is very elastic. The ability to accommodate the excesses of human beings is what democracy is about; I believe that is what is happening. We can still situate what is happening within the confines of democracy, it’s about people expressing themselves; it’s about the majority having its way but about everybody including the minority expressing their views.
Now the issue is the approach of expressing your wishes as the case may be and the context within which such views are expressed. Certainly, violence is not part of it, violence is another roadblock to democracy and where you see violence being promoted it’s often promoted by those who are out of ideas.
So because they have little to offer to the people they have become desperate?
Yes, for people to believe them so they have become desperate because they know once there is violence, it creates room for them to now have their way. So it could be that’s the reason why people who are supposed to protect democracy are engaged in things that undermine democracy. It’s like there’s some kind of conspiracy against the people, against the electorates so that they create fear and tension, and people would now be cowed to accept them even if they are no longer in favour.
INEC, during the last ICCES meeting, raised fears that if attacks are not checked that this could escalate beyond what we are seeing now and challenged the security agencies to act. You wear a dual cap, one as a participant and one speaking for the political parties within your own rank what has been the understanding, especially among the three big political parties now, as it were, what are you doing by way of advising yourselves, especially with the fears that INEC raised?
Well as IPAC we have of course engaged in deliberate actions by way of meetings, by way of telling ourselves that the biggest losers when democracy fails are the political parties, the politicians, we are in fact the first casualty when democracy fails. So we should understand that if we allow this democracy to survive, it’s not for anybody but for ourselves. If we undermine it and it fails, we are not harming any other person. So we’re telling each other that we have to campaign on issues with the highest level of decency that we can bring to it so that we do not unwittingly undo ourselves by way of our actions and inactions.
Yes, we have been holding meetings, and yes we’ve been talking to each other and yes we’ve been looking at possible ways we can reduce tension including toying with the idea of a unity government. What do I mean? That when elections are over, any party that wins, it shouldn’t be a winner take it all, because that introduces this kind of recklessness, desperation and since we are all Nigerians it doesn’t matter which party you belong and when you look at it criticality the parties in this country are here are not entrenched, they are all ideological linked. It’s all about, for now, how we quickly deepen the roots of democracy in this country.
The 2022 election act is specific about certain sanctions for anyone that goes out of his or her way to perpetrate violence and prescribed dos and don’t for campaigns. But that’s not what we are seeing especially with the pulling down of billboards of most political parties; throwing tantrums, name-calling, and all that. They seem to still do their thing the same old way, does it mean that the parties are not abreast with the provision of the act, or what?
Well, you must understand that we’re coming from a background, and that background is that Nigerians, more often than not, regard their ethnicity as their world; so they always tend to withdraw to the comfort zone of their ethnicity as their world. So of course when you emphasise ethnicity it breeds hatred, it breeds all sorts of negativity we don’t want against the other person and it also breeds a lack of respect for the other person’s views or beliefs or culture.
So those are the tendencies of ethnicity because culturally it is like a natural tendency, the tendency to protect you, to also be in competition, kind of. When you now situate that in a democracy, which is the government of the people by the people and for the people, it could be misconstrued. It didn’t say the government of the Igbos, by the Igbos for the Igbos, or governments of the Yorubas by the Yorubas and for the Yorubas, unfortunately, that’s the context of what we have in Nigeria now; the government of the Hausas by the Hausas for the Hausas, no. That’s not what we’re practicing. When you say ‘the people, you are referring to Nigerians, everyone in Nigeria.
However here you are with some entrenched differences to the extent that even the candidates that we have today, their only qualifications and their claim to power are because of where they are coming from. One says emilokan, another say doesn’t vote for anybody, because I’m from the north, vote for me. Even Obi’s supporters themselves are exhibiting this kind of tendency that now it’s our turn, it’s either us or nobody. Our way or the highway. So look at it from that perspective, because those are the realities that I just told you, that’s what is happening.
Does such thinking create conflict?
Yes, such things breed contempt, contempt for the other groups because those others are trying to obliterate or put others down, so if you now come up in the exercise that is so tension-packed not just in Nigeria but everywhere in the world when there are national elections, it’s always something that comes with some kind of competition and some kind of desperation. I don’t know what word to use, but in this case, I think it’s fit.
Do you think INEC is doing enough in terms of allowing the law to take its course because they are to give effect to the electoral law, the Electoral Act, even though INEC cannot do the work of the police, are they doing enough? Are they calling out those who are not doing what they are not supposed to do?
You see this is beyond INEC because you can’t legislate what I’m talking about, the issue of lack of respect among the ethnic nationalities I’m talking about, the underlying conditions, where we are coming from. That’s what I’m talking about. Unless we want to deceive ourselves that no, it doesn’t exist. They do exist.
That’s why perhaps some of the parties are having problems today, and there’s a deliberate attempt to sabotage what they are doing because they did not meet the expectations of the contending forces within the political circle and that’s why because there’s this assumption that there should be some kind of zoning. Okay, even that is faulty, in that the Constitution does not recognise that for good reason. Its drafters are not unaware that if you do that, it is the fastest way to bring the country down because the effect of having a constitution is to unite the country as one indivisible entity.
Why do you say that?
The history of civil administration, if you look at it critically has shown that all of us–the six geopolitical zones have had the opportunity of ruling this country at one time or the other. The only zone that hasn’t had it is North Central under civil administration, not even a vice president. The Hausa/ Fulani in the North West is saying it’s our turn after we had Shagari, Buhari, Yar’Adua and others and North East is saying it’s our turn, we should be given, after they had Balewa, Atiku himself as vice president but they don’t want to talk about that.
They say no, you’re not being fair to us. The Igbos are saying it too after they’ve had Zik, Ekwueme as vice president they’re still saying, no, we’ve not been given a chance to rule recently under civil administration or you come to the South-South after you’ve had Jonathan that just finished they say, no, we’ve not been given chance. Yorubas after you’ve had the vice president sitting there, you’ve had Obasanjo sitting there, they say, no, we’ve not been given chance. It’s about fairness, equity. So you can see the lie in the whole thing.
But the north central has had more than a fair share even outside the civil administration.
Which zone hasn’t had the opportunity among the six geopolitical zones? All of us have had it. But I’m just telling you, some of their claims because it’s based on faulty grounds that’s why all these things are happening. Probably it has been safer than a constitutional safeguard should be put so that these various political zones; the constitution states it clearly that it should be located across the six geopolitical zones so that people would have their chance.
In all honesty, how do you see the coming elections, do you think INEC will conduct it as promised?
INEC is fiercely committed to this, it’s a mandate given to them by the constitution of delivering free, fair, credible and all-inclusive elections. They are doing everything possible to do that. They also have, fortunately, a legal framework in the 2022 Electoral law which was signed by the President, kudos to him, to guide the process to an extent. And they have always brought about innovations in the process so I think to a very large extent INEC is well prepared to do it. What now you may ask is what about the dynamics of some of the things I’ve mentioned that our own background, our makeup which was assumed to be normal and the laws were made to guide those things. Some you cannot legislate.
As political parties where can we situate the attacks on INEC facilities?
Well, they are all some of the symptoms of what we have just said because the real issues are not properly addressed. Unfortunately for us this time around we have raised ethnicity to a very high pedestal over and above consideration for Nigeria as a country. And nothing can be more divisive than that, so the moment it happened because maybe the people did not see that it would favour them collectively. If people had imbibed or internalised the ideals of democracy they would be the ones that would guard or protect those facilities, if they believed that this is in our interests.
We have also heard the issue of some people thinking of a ‘government of national unity.’ I don’t know if you get what I mean. That people were canvassing for the government of national unity and that they may be behind some of the efforts to stop the election.
If you stop the election you create a constitutional crisis and the only thing you are doing is prolonging the life of this administration which we don’t want because when there is a crisis the President can declare a state of emergency and can stay for another six months or so, and in another six months again if the situation is not normalised. So unless we want to inadvertently or unwittingly extend the life of the administration then think of causing constitutional crises.