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‘Peaceful protests by opposition parties are ingredients of democracy’

Mr. Osita Okechukwu, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, describes recent protests by opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)

Mr. Osita Okechukwu, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, describes recent protests by opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against the Supreme Court judgment on Imo State governorship election petition as an ingredient of democracy. He, however, rebuffs the allegation by the opposition party that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has been destroying democratic principles and institutions.

The PDP has staged several protests across the country including foreign embassies since the Supreme Court judgment on the Imo governorship election, accusing the present administration of destroying democratic principles and institutions. What is your take on the development?
For me, peaceful protest is a key ingredient of democracy. What democracy frowns at is violent protest. And from all one could discern from my newspaper clips, television and radio news, the PDP, our sister political party, is not violent. For that, I thank them immensely for not embarking on self-help.

On the destruction of democratic principles, one wholeheartedly disagrees, for most times PDP cherry picks in what it calls the destruction of tenets of democracy. Today, they praise the judiciary as the best hope of the common man; tomorrow the judiciary is compromised. Today, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is transparent and yesterday it was compromised. Wait a minute; PDP should be careful the way, out of annoyance, it kind of lampoons institutions of democracy.

For instance, when Rivers, Zamfara, Adamawa, Sokoto and Bauchi states were more or less handed over to the PDP, to them the judiciary and INEC were Daniels come to judgment. Even when my brother, His Excellency, Emeka Ihedioha, was declared winner without the 2/3 spread expressly provided in the constitution, to them no harm was done to democratic tenets. When we cried fowl, they told us to keep quiet. This is nothing but the height of the double standard. To be frank, we must be reticent in pulling down the major planks of our democracy. All one can advise PDP, and indeed my brother Emeka is to move on as Bob Marley, the music legend advised that he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. He should let be.

If you recall, the PDP protested in 2018 after INEC declared the Osun governorship election inconclusive and called for supplementary polls. They also rested their 2019 presidential campaign for four days in protest against the removal of former CJN, Walter Onnoghen by the president over alleged corruption. As a political scientist, what do you make of PDP’s adoption of protests as a tool for the opposition?
Without sounding like a broken record, peaceful protest is admissible and welcome in expressing one’s grievance in democracy, provided it is peaceful and orderly. For most people, democracy is revolutionary, not evolutionary; they want immediate and impeccable results all the time. This is an ideal and that’s what all of us want all the time. But when the Supreme Court reminds us like in the Ihedioha case that the exclusion of results in 388 polling units is less than transparent we get angry. When the judiciary reminds the Ihedioha camp that Deputy Commissioner of Police, Rabiu Hussaini, did not just walk in and dump results of the excluded polling units but was validly subpoenaed, they protest. Methinks they deliberately closed their eyes forgetting that the raison de etre for handing over a copy of results sheets to the security agencies is not just for fun but for occasions like this instance. Therefore, with hindsight, they would be in self-denial if they do not admit that they could have insisted that INEC submits alternate result sheets to debunk the submission by Governor Hope Uzodinma and the police instead of querying the competence and the authority of the police officer. It was a classical mistake of the head.

What are the lessons from the Ihedioha case? One, we must be forthright in the pursuit of justice and stand firm even if the result was in our favour. Can you imagine what could have happened if Ihedioha had picked the microphone and denounced his result as the winner and there and then called for re-run because INEC announced him the winner without the mandatory 2/3 provided in the 1999 Constitution? Some might argue that it’s unimaginable for anyone to shoot himself in the foot, but it could have been more useful than today’s protest. We could have coroneted him hero of democracy, for it is trite law that you cannot go to equity with unclean hands.

Aside from the Supreme Court ruling, the party is also protesting against the spate of insecurity in the country to which the popular opinion among Nigerians is that this administration has not fulfilled its promise…

(Cuts in) To be frank, nobody is happy with the ferocious spate of insecurity in our dear fatherland. The Buhari I have followed for almost two decades is very angry and worried more than most of us. The only problem is that as an elder, he cannot weep in our presence. He is doing his uttermost to contain the insecurity in the land. Otherwise, why is he deploying billions that could have been used to construct roads, bridges and advance social infrastructure like health and education for procuring military hardware? One cannot on this page, because of the rage, tell all the story of the critical military infrastructure being deployed to stem insecurity. Do one talk of critical communications being mulled? Suffice it to say that Mr. President is quietly engaging the Americans, British, Russians, Isrealis, Chinese and all relevant countries in a final push to fortify our fortress with modern communications, soft and hardware.

At the root of the allegations by the PDP is Nigeria’s failure to strengthen its electoral system to enthrone transparency. Granted that PDP failed to do that in their 16 years in power, why has this administration failed to improve the system in the spirit of change? 
As one said earlier, democracy is work in progress, not a finished work, even in the United States of America, the oldest known democracy. We must admit that our democracy is growing by the day. An incumbent president had lost the election and a host of incumbent governors had lost elections. All gains made in liberal democracy throughout history were evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Talking about insecurity, the National Assembly recently joined the call for the sack of the Service Chiefs as part of the solution. What is your take?
Yes the National Assembly joined the strident call for sack of Service Chiefs and as you said, it’s part of the solution but not a one-medicine solution. My take is that we should wait for Mr. President, the Commander-in-Chief; for my little knowledge of Mr. President is that he doesn’t act on the spur of the moment. He will search for an enduring solution not like you or me who could have long ago changed the guards.

Most pundits hold the view that the basic tenet is that when a commander fails, he is either cashiered or redeployed; especially when a Chief of Army Staff (COAS) publicly calls for prayers, it means he has done his best and kind of exhausted his wits. This is not in any form to neglect or downplay the power of prayers but that COAS is not an Imam or Priest. All I know is that Mr. President, in the fullness of time, will not disappoint Nigerians.

The South-west has been working hard to institutionalise its security outfit, Operation Amotekun, while other zones are warming up to launch theirs. What is your thought on this?
The truth of the matter is that we are kind of in an emergency or dire straits, where all solutions are germane. My happiness with Amotekun is that the two major proponents, Governors Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State are uncommon patriots who immensely love our dear country and are Buharists. Therefore, nobody can accuse them of fighting Mr. President or trying to secede. They mean well for the citizens they govern, as the sole purpose of their mandate is to provide security and welfare to their constituents. The truth must be told that in a multi-ethnic society like ours, we need multi-layers of security to guard our fortress.

Are you encouraging other regions to emulate the Amotekun model?
Whether it’s is done on a state or regional basis, I sincerely support the multi-layers of security to protect the base of our dear country. Those who evoke the myth of being the praetorian guard of the nation and detest minimal devolution of security should take note of the unimaginable scenario emerging. For it pains one that the Buhari Agrarian Revolution is being hindered and indeed undermined by the insecurity our farmers face in their farms. That’s why one commended Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of my state when he set up the Forest Guards. We need such a para-military security apparatus to defend our base.

I’m doing a booklet on Buhari’s agrarian revolution, for it is an uncommon revolution and the most massive investment in agriculture by any president or Head of State post-1970 Nigeria. In sum, this is a revolution aimed at bridging the unprecedented inequality gap in the history of our dear fatherland. A lot of people deliberately gloss over the danger of gross inequality in Nigeria. It is the main or root cause of Boko Haram insurgence, banditry, and kidnapping of all sorts. Inequality created the paradox of Nigeria producing the richest African and the global poorest country.

That’s why one was amused when one of my favorite online newspapers listed President Buhari’s government as one of those who failed to meet the stipulated Maputo Protocol. The Maputo Protocol was a declaration made by the African Union in 2003, 17 years ago, mandating African countries to commit a minimum of 10 per cent of their annual budget to agriculture. It’s generally called Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa.

Buhari’s agrarian revolution has many facets and the most impressive aspect is the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), which was launched on November 17, 2015, by Mr. President in consortium with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to create a new generation of farmers and link them with agro-processing companies, called Anchor in this instance. The CBN in the Anchor Borrowers Programme shielded the Small Holder Farmers (SHF) or in actual fact, subsistence farmers from prohibitive interest rate thus deepened financial inclusion. In fact, the CBN in collaboration with some state governments clears the farmland, provides high yield seedlings, provides fertilizer and the farmers harvest and hand over to Anchor companies which off-take the farm produce; thus migrating subsistence farmers to mechanised farmers.

Apparently, it means that the online newspaper considered only the official budget without counting the billions invested by CBN intervention. Otherwise, they could have rated the present regime meagerly thus: 2016 – 0.0125 per cent, 2017 – 0.0182 per cent, 2018 – 0.0201 per cent, 2019 – 0.015 per cent and 2020 – 0.0173 per cent.