Our leadership recruitment process damaged, needs shift — Baba-Ahmed
Director of Public Affairs, Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, recently joined one of the oldest political parties in Nigeria, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he examined Nigeria’s political evolution, leadership recruitment and the changing positions of public intellectuals in the democratic process.
What shortcomings do you perceive in leadership recruitment process in Nigeria?
There are a number of characteristics that the two dominant political parties – All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – have displayed for a very long time. Power is bought and sold, so it is only available to the rich and that is very dangerous. Political parties are supposed to serve certain purposes – articulate the needs of the people and represent them. If you lack huge amount of money, be it yours, borrowed, stolen or somebody sponsors you, you cannot achieve political power. You need to separate the use and influence of huge amount of wealth in the political process.
Violence is also a major factor, and it is available to only those who wield power. Anybody who tells you that out of 25 million Nigerians who vote, 15 million do it willingly is not being honest. There is huge amount of fear, intimidation and corruption.
Then, the electoral process is corrupt from top to bottom and the politicians cannot allow an electoral process, which will genuinely lead to the emergence of a legitimately elected leader.
So, if you are a patriotic Nigerian trying to emerge through the political process, forget it. Our elite recruitment process is sincerely damaged and with every election Nigerians are learning two things: One, more of our leaders are not legitimately elected, two, they are just people who stole power.
Currently, we have 18 political parties. And with the abysmal performance of the PDP (for 16 years) and APC (in the last over six years), do you think any of the existing other parties can remedy the situation?
I think the real question is whether the electorate are willing to vote for any of these other parties in place of APC and PDP. But I think we are likely to see a major shift in 2023. The perception that APC and PDP have run their course, have run this country aground, and there is nothing that they will offer different from what they have not offered before, is gradually gaining grounds amongst a large number of Nigerians.
However, other parties will have to work very hard to offer themselves as alternatives and options to APC and PDP, otherwise one of them or both of them will come back in one form or the other and continue to do exactly what they have been doing.
PDP is not talking about what they will do about security if they get power in 2023. APC is saying absolutely nothing about contesting with PDP to deal with inflation, insecurity or how to rebuild the country. They are just interested in capturing power and doing what they have been doing before. There is an opportunity for these other parties, but they have to work very hard with very little time left. They have to explore other options, to talk to each other and build platforms that will, perhaps, brings all of them together or some of them together. What is very important for me is that 2023 must not produce the kind of people that are just interested in becoming senators, governors and president. If that happens, I am sorry to say, this country has no future!
President Muhammadu Buhari brought huge momentum to the north towards the 2015 general elections. Four to five years later, intellectuals from the North, yourself inclusive, are critiquing the administration. Is your decision to identify with PRP a statement against the failure of APC or a genuine desire by northern elites to redefine leadership?
You are asking me a personal question and I will answer you. When you talk about northern intellectuals in 2015 rallying to support President Buhari, it was not just about President Buhari. There were a lot of people like me, who worked really hard to make Buhari become President. We believed that the continuation of (President Goodluck) Jonathan’s administration was not what the North and Nigeria needed at that time, because he was weak about corruption and fighting Boko Haram and we needed a leader who was strong against corruption and insecurity. It was not entirely because Buhari was a northerner or that we felt that the north had to have power. Personally, it took only two years for me, between 2015 and 2017, to realise that he (Buhari) was headed in the wrong direction.
President Buhari did not want to govern Nigeria, he just wanted the power, the power he contested in 2003, 2007, 2011 and he did not get. In 2015, he won and that was the end of the road. As far as he is concerned, Nigeria should be grateful that he is the President and he abandoned governance. And so, our problems began to mount.
In 2019, we, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), reminded Nigerians not to vote Buhari back to power. We said his track record in his first term was nothing to write home about and that it will be a mistake to give him another four years. We have been vindicated. Since he became President for the second term, this country has become considerably worse. Is joining PRP, which I have just done, a reflection of the inclination that the Talakawas will rediscover their commitment for leading, which has stood them out? I hope so, and we are working really hard to give all Nigerians the option to PDP and APC. PRP is the only party that has been consistent in terms of its values, philosophy and orientation from pre-colonial days. It is the only party that stands today on its feet, and represents the real people of the Talakawas and the rich.
If PRP has the opportunity to run this country, it will run it on a completely different trajectory than APC and PDP. It will focus on dealing with security as a priority, on the country’s economy and rebuilding bridges between the Nigerian communities because we run an inclusive government. We will give the young people hope, we will let them know that there is a future for them; we will build infrastructure for all and our children. These are key values of PRP. I know its antecedents and know its history and people who genuinely want to serve this country. There is a huge number of Nigerians, simple and honest, who are just tired of running away from criminals, running away from unemployment and poverty. Hopefully, PRP will make that available to Nigerians as an option to the two parties that have nothing to offer this country.
Given the myriad of problems, how best can we reduce number of candidates standing elections to help the electorate make the best choice?
Are you talking about reducing candidates or looking at one particular political zone or the criteria to reduce the number of people putting up for electoral positions? It is not the number of people who put themselves forward that matters because it is a democratic right. If all the 18 parties have candidates they wish to put forward, let them do it. There is no law that stops them. Nigerians are quite conversant with how to cast their vote. I have been involved in vote counting and election management and I know the percentage of voided vote is very tiny.