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Atiku Should Allow PDP To Breathe Fresh Air – President, Political Scientists



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A professor at the University of Ilorin and President of the Nigerian Political Science Association, Hassan Saliu, in this interview with ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU, explains how the country can ensure credible polls

As a political stakeholder, what is your take on the recent off-cycle elections in Imo and Bayelsa states?

I was not in any of the states. But from what I have gathered and read, there are two perspectives. One perspective maintains that there was a decline in the quality of the election. There are certain things that Nigeria thought we had passed but unfortunately reared their heads. Others believe that yes, there was nothing strange about the elections. This group is of the view that the elections were in line with their expectations.

On my part, I am afraid that some of the steps that have been taken now will likely compromise the next round of elections. When Nigerians lament that the election is not transparent, they oftentimes talk about what happened on the day of the election. Lack of transparency and integrity in an election doesn’t just occur on the day of the election. In other words, the activities that will lead to that conclusion matter, and they are cumulative, which if not properly checked may lead to questionable elections. From the appointment of the national electoral commissioners and the resident electoral commission, one will see that perhaps certain steps have been taken towards making the next round of election credible or not, depending on how you interpret the processes leading to the appointment. So, what I am saying essentially is that people need to monitor every bit of the process. You don’t wait till the day of the elections before making your observations known.

So, if you have members of a political party being appointed as INEC’s REC what do you expect will happen on the day of the election or to the results of the election? Your guess is as good as mine.

So, what can be done to correct this anomaly?

INEC is a creation of the Nigerian state. It’s an agency in Nigeria, so whatever is happening in Nigeria will affect INEC. So as a Nigerian creation, factors like tribalism, religious bigotry, corruption, and lack of patriotism among others will influence the performance of INEC. You can’t suddenly wake up and expect INEC to rise above all these negative sentiments. But in terms of the specific question you have asked, INEC needs to review its activities pertaining to the last elections and off-cycle elections and tell itself the truth. The truth about where, why, and how they got it wrong or right. INEC may not be able to tell itself the whole truth, but when it recruits the services of some independent body, it will be able to tell the commission the whole truth.

The kind of review I am proposing is not the kind of review that INEC used to do through two or three of its consultants. No, I am talking about a serious review involving people who have not been having anything to do with INEC. They may do an in-house review or get a consultant, but they need an independent body to do that further.

Also, I think the process of appointing an INEC chairman is not tidy enough. We have got to a point where two factors need to be considered when appointing INEC Chairman. Anyone who will be appointed as INEC chairman after this era must be someone with a track record, not only academic qualification, but the track record of managing institutions if not at the level of INEC in terms of magnitude, it should be very close to it. In other words, the organisational skills of such a person must be thoroughly examined and proven. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is assumed that when somebody has plenty of certificates, the person will be transparent and credible, but the work of INEC has more to do with fieldwork, not office work. A man who has a first degree but with his superb organizational skills can manage INEC better. INEC needs to get more serious and realize that Nigerians are expecting a lot from it. It cannot be business as usual. So, in the future, we need to pay more attention to what happens in INEC.

Also, for me the issue of unbundling INEC will be two-fold, the first fold is that yes, we are assuming that the problem of Nigeria is institutional and once you unbundle INEC, the organization that will come up will be populated by angels. That may not necessarily be the case, institutional problems may be about 20 or 30 percent of the problem. The problem for me is the attitude of politicians, the attitude of political parties, and the attitude of Nigerians in general. If the attitude of these stakeholders remained the same, then nothing will change, nothing will change except the name. So we need to go a step further and the step further is how do you change the attitude of people that the new organization will be relating with? As long as our attitude remains the same, elections will be rigged, the primary will be manipulated, there will be an imposition of candidates, money will change hands and the process will not be credible.

Don’t you think our system of government is perhaps the problem?

Any system is as good as the people operating it and any system can be as bad as the people operating it. These are systems that have worked in other areas and countries. So, why are they not working in Nigeria? So, if you keep on interrogating that, we are likely to come down to the issue of operators.

Federalism is known and it’s been operated in most countries of the world. We have two tiers of government; in Nigeria, we have three tiers and that’s what makes Nigeria federalism very unique. Even though, the status of the lowest tier is neither here nor there. So, federalism, for me is the best for Nigeria where you have people of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds, but the issue is are we operating federalism in the way it should be operated? I understand that there is no universal approach to federalism, every country evolves its system. The spirit of federalism encourages diversity. That will enable us to keep up with the pace of development. It involves pulling our resources together while retaining a portion of it to improve the level of development, is not a uniform system where everybody would be the same.

Now, what do you make of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s recent call for unity among opposition political parties?

The thing to do is to interrogate the level of sincerity of that call and the caller. Were we not in this Nigeria when people made the call that opposition elements should come together, who listened to the call? Who will head the coalition? is Atiku ready to jettison his ambition? Or his looking for the opportunity to lord it over other parties? How are we sure there will not be other political arrangements or alignment before the next election? Has he decided to leave PDP alone? In other words, allowed the party to choose its leader. Because he said is going nowhere, that statement is pregnant with meaning. Let’s wait and see. But I doubt whether a coalition arrangement will work.

Atiku’s ambition is affecting the growth of the PDP. We follow the debate, the controversy. The issues in the PDP before the presidential primary, and even after the presidential primaries, those issues are still there. They have not faded away. So, the only way to give PDP a semblance of unity is for Atiku to drop his ambition. There are too many issues surrounding Atiku’s ambition. Given his age, if he comes out to contest for president under the PDP next time, I don’t know what will happen to the PDP before that time. But I am assuming that decision may not go down with people at PDP. Is time for Atiku to look at the political temperature and advise himself accordingly. His interest will not supersede the interests of the PDP, each time this man emerges as a presidential candidate, there are always issues that will eventually affect the chances of the party. This is the right time for Atiku to allow the PDP to breathe fresh air.

What about the Labour Party?

I have sympathy for the Labour Party if you compare the level of internal crisis level with the PDP. LP emerged as a serious party in Nigeria in the last two years or maybe three years, as a serious contender for Nigeria’s presidency. So, if it is having an internal crisis, we can understand, is part of the evolutionary process. But when you look at the PDP which has been on the ground and ruled Nigeria for 16 years, still has issues to the extent that they went to the marketplace during the campaign, and that affected the chances of the PDP in the last election. Lessons are there but nobody has learned from them.

How would you assess President Bola Tinubu’s administration?

There’s a difference between I want to be president some factors may still be hidden from you, but when you become the President, everything becomes obvious. You cannot run away from them. So that is the situation that we find ourselves in now. Certain things didn’t fall in place in the last eight years that All Progressives Congress was in government some of the issues are well known, while some were not known, I mean to this government before it came to power. Now, they are faced with realities. And the government can’t complain because it described its administration as a continuation of the previous government. So, the previous government probably didn’t do certain things, right, as Buhari himself has admitted. Now the reality of being in power can no longer be wished away. The people in government will have to live with the reality and the issue. But they are still new, trying to study and understand all issues. So let’s give them time.

In specific terms, what do you expect them to do urgently?

Let me borrow Buhari’s words when he took over in 2015, the Nigeria economy was vandalized. I will say that most sectors in Nigeria have been vandalized. The whole country is in a mess for now. No sector will say anything is going on well. If you go to agriculture, the price of food in the markets will tell you whether the sector is kicking or not knocking, if you are talking about infrastructure, go from here to Ilorin on the road, and you will understand the problem in that sector. So it means that they have to work around virtually all the sectors or choose some of them that can be catalysts in developing other sectors. They need to sit down review the situation, identify critical strikes that are needed, and let us begin to move. So, it requires urgency, it is not a crisis, it is an emergency. Which government needs to sit down and walk around the clock to make sure that they bring out visible changes that Nigeria can see. The textbook changes may not work but we need realistic changes that the ordinary people can relate with in terms of the prices of goods. Nigeria wants physical and quantified changes in their life in the shortest possible time. Let’s hope and pray for them.

What is your view about democracy in Nigeria considering all these issues?

A group is of the view that, yes, certain positive things are taking place in Nigeria’s democracy though the speed may be very slow, but some things are taking place. If a sitting governor who ruled for 8 years, would lose an election for a relatively unknown person. We cannot dismiss that development had not been democratic because the governor had all the power, had all the money yet he was defeated. There is another group that believes the progress is just tokenism, they are of the view that in terms of a concrete measure of democracy, Nigeria is not going anywhere.

For me, we are making progress but we need to move fast to restore people’s confidence in democracy. If you take any public poll, given what is happening in Nigeria, the people’s interest in democracy is very low, and may not bother about what happened to democracy. And that will be quite unfortunate. So we need to let democracy work for the people.

The first direction to this is to reconcile the majority of Nigeria with democracy. There is a wide gap. For Nigerians, democracy means a good life, being able to buy things, and being able to do things relatively easily. But under Nigeria’s democracy, all things seem difficult. Things are rapidly changing. So, what the new government needs to do is expedite action to move more rapidly in terms of doing things that will bring costs of living down so that people will then know that they have a government that they have voted for. For now, Democracy is going in one direction and the people are going in a different direction.


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