Anthony Sani, the vocal Secretary General of the Northern apex socio-cultural organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) in this interview with AZA MSUE, speaks on the country’s nascent democracy, its coming to being, the current administration andformer President Olusegun Obasanjo is important in Nigeria’s politics but does not have the political structure capable of unseating President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 polls
How did the current political dispensation come into being?
I want to believe when you talk of the current dispensation you mean this regime. In which case, I would say, the major opposition political parties mainly, the Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party, Congress for Progressive Change and a faction of the Peoples Democratic Party known as the nPDP came together and formed the All Progressives Congress which wrestled power from the PDP. But the main political decision was the fact that it was the first time the South West formed a political alliance with the North. It was that singular decision that provided the APC with 25 percent in at least two thirds of the states, since there are only 19 states in the North which is short of the required two thirds, considering the South East and South South did not give 25 per cent in any state besides Edo.
That is the beauty of multi party democracy which can break barriers and build bridges across power blocks that contribute in no small measure in strengthening the unity and stability of the nation in line with the adage that in politics there are no permanent enemies and permanent friends but permanent interest within the contest of one United Nation. I do not think the Yoruba regret their decision to ally with the North for the first time which has enabled their ingress into the national government as partner.
What roles did you play?
That is not a fair question in the sense that you would be expecting me to applaud the roles I played which contributed to the victory of the regime. I believe that would be immodest of me to state my roles. Let those who know what I did to be the ones to state any roles I played that contributed to the emergence of the regime. Let us leave it at that.
What is your assessment of the current republic?
The assessment of the current regime must take into account the fact that it emerged after long period of military rules. And as a result, only the retired military officers and their civilian surrogates still hold sway for obvious reasons. Proper democracy will be in place only after the beneficiaries of the military regimes are no more.
Also, because of the freedom from the military regime, the people are overplaying the liberty to include freedom to rob, kidnap and freedom to kill. That is the dark side of unbridled freedom from military dictatorship.
All the same, one can say the freedom to choose their leaders and how they wish to be governed is the major advantage of the multiparty democracy of the current republic. But if the people do not make judicious use of their democratic rights, they have themselves to blame.
And when you consider the fact that the opposition was able to unseat an incumbent government, then you can hardly avoid the conclusion that democracy is improving in our clime for performance. Mind you, our democracy is just a few years compared to America’s over 240 years.
Is this the democracy of your dream?
We may not have reached the Promised Land because democracy is a process. But from the way we are going, there is hope that democracy will improve with time. This is because there is no perfect system anywhere.
I often say we are going through hard time which should bring about national grandeur, purposeful leadership and the best in everyone. No society thrives on the victory of its factions but through ultimate reconciliation. Our situation is not beyond redemption.
Is this the democracy you fought for?
The democracy we fought for is premised on triple foundation of liberty, justice and common decency. Democracy may differ in forms, but when it comes to its three elements of justice, liberty and common decency, democracy is the same and universal. So, anyone who seeks to redefine the three elements of democracy can as well reinvent the wheel and redefine evil.
But due to factors of illiteracy, poverty and diversity of religion and ethnicity, it would take us longer time for us to reach the Promised Land by overcoming the challenges. But the situation is not beyond redemption.
Where did we get it wrong?
The oil wealth which is not result of hard work is largely responsible for the imperfections in our democracy. This oil wealth made the Nigerian nation a trust fund state. Because of cheap oil money, the leaders did not bother about taxes out of fear that effective taxation would make the people hold the leaders accountable. And the leaders have never wanted to be accountable. The communities never asked questions and instead wanted one of their own to be in the government in order to have their own share of the national cake, corrupt money chased away productive money. That is why the able bodied people prefer to go to politics in the hope of having access to national resources instead of helping to produce and add value to the resources by growing and developing the economy.
But I believe just as the white man brought slave trade and the white man stopped slave trade, oil wealth which brought corruption and laziness will be the one to stop corruption and laziness when it dries up or its utility is reduced. So we should not let our spirit down cast by the current challenges we face. They will come to pass. After all, adversity may be cathartic and productive as well.
How was democracy during the First Republic?
The democracy during the First Republic was more refined because our national ideals and moral values had not collapsed. As a result, the political leaders believed in one united Nigeria with people who were socially diverse, politically active and economically empowered. They believed in republic of ideals and ideas. But today, societal values have collapsed and even the sacred core of inviolability of the individuals is no more. Hence, the topsy-turvy found in the cockpit of politics today.
How was the First Republic different from the second and third republics?
I have told you that the national ideals and moral values and the concept of nationhood in the First Republic are not the same with the republics which followed as a result of military culture with those who participated in the preceding military regimes being the ones who took over and managed the following republics.
Would Nigeria’s founding fathers be happy with Nigeria of today?
They may not be happy with the pace of the socioeconomic development of the democratic culture, but if they note the undying factors stymieing the development, they would understand and bear with us.
Has there ever been ideology-based politics and political parties in Nigeria?
How can ideology influence the political parties when politics of identity has supplanted politics of issues? Ideology is supposed to be method of solving national problems as espoused by political parties and contained in their manifestos which they use in canvassing for electoral mandate needed for execution. It is the absence of ideology that has brought about politics of identity as symbolised by power shift, rotation and zoning. If the political parties were ideological, they would be the one to tout how they intend to solve the nation’s problems through restructuring, however refined, and not for an unelected select elite to try to foist their own mode of restructuring of the country undemocratically.
What happened to party supremacy?
Party supremacy has gone along with strong democratic institutions as a result of weak and illiberal democratic institutions due to big man syndrome. That explains the face-off between the executive arm of this regime and the legislative arm where the ruling party has the majority under the claim of separation of power. It is very necessary for the players to find appropriate balance between separation of power and the imperative of multiparty politics.
Your advice for Nigerian politicians?
My advice to Nigeria’s politicians is for them to know their roles in the order of things as leaders who should serve and not be served. It is wrong of them to live standard of life that is too far over and above those they profess to serve. They should make the political parties to represent distinct methods of solving national problems as contained in their manifestos while the voters should make judicious use of their democratic rights and ensure that votes count so that the ensuing leaders would be accountable.
What is your take on the 2019 danger signs raised by ex-INEC Chairman, Prof. Jega?
Professor Jega drew the attention to some sections of the electoral act that are contradictory and capable of playing havoc to the electoral processes. All that is required is for the NASS to take note and make necessary amendments, while the political class should note realistic appreciation of their roles in the order of things and act accordingly.
Can you see former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s coalition defeating President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019?
Former President Obasanjo is important in Nigeria’s political clime quite alright, but he does not have the political structure capable of unseating President Buhari. More so that he has succeeded in weakening the opposition party as a viable alternative platform.
You may also wish to note that even if President Buhari had considered playing President Mandela by doing only one term, the former president’s letter made that option impossible, precisely because if President Buhari panders, it would amount to proving the former president right that the president has failed, which would not be good for the president. President Buhari would rather prefer to prove the former President wrong by stopping the jinx of letter-writing by former President to sitting presidents.
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