Why democracy is not impacting positively on Nigerians, by Yakasai
The second republic politician and elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai insists that if Nigeria should go back to the 1963 constitution as being canvassed by some stakeholders, efforts should be made not to tamper with the original stipulations. He regrets that Nigeria’s approach to democracy as a political culture is depriving Nigerians lofty dividends of civil rule where security and welfare of citizens are assured. He spoke to Assistant Politics Editor, LEO SOBECHI
What is your estimation of Nigeria’s progress in the last 20 years of democratic practice in the country?
After 20 years, there must be some progress, but whether the progress is up to our expectation is a matter to be discussed. I do not think that progress made, particularly in the field of democracy in physical development in this country, if it met our expectations.
We had hoped that we should have been better by now after 20 years of democracy. In my opinion, this is not a real democracy. It is a failed democracy. We elected our leaders, but most of the time they are former military men, who have not imbibed the democratic culture. We let them know that they are not ruling us as democrats, they rule as if they are still military dictators, with the proclivities of military rule in this country.
Interestingly, Nigeria will clock 60 next year as an independent entity, do you think the country has got a national resolution?
When we started after 1960, you will know we had tried. If you look at it from the angle of development, before independence, we concentrated our attention on freedom, independence. There was no major conflict among the political parties on that issue. Everybody was for independence in Nigeria. Like I said, we did not expect it to come so soon, but for one reason or the other, the British decided that we should have it by 1960.
We were happy we got our independence and we started. Just before we got our independence, our leaders were taken unawares therefore they concentrated their activities to see which programme they will adopt for an independent Nigeria.
(Obafemi) Awolowo advocated free education and health care. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s priority was national security. Sir Ahmadu Bello’s priority was modernisation, because of the time of independence most of the public servants were non northerners. The main concern then was to make sure that they were trained to man the affairs of the people and we achieved some degree of success. But soon after, the military took over; we started to drag back, one step forward, two steps backward and we continued that till now.
We are not making the desired progress. We need true democracy, where people will be elected on the basis of their programmes. Most of the people we elected since the military era, either elected ones or made to rule us were not there based on any programme. Now, the challenge before us is that next time we should not elect a person until we know exactly what his programme is, and what he is going to do to move Nigeria forward, in black and white, so that we do not vote for people blindly. This way we do not end up putting wrong people in power and when they are already there, there is nothing you can do about it.
Most observers say Nigeria has been bereft of statesmen, against the background of recent calls for a return to the 1963 constitution, do you buy that idea?
I do not quarrel with 1963 constitution, but my only problem is, do not tamper with it. Let us go back to 1963 constitution as it were at the time. Then, if we want to adjust, we can adjust it in accordance with the convention of that constitution, that is my view.
The issue of 2023 has also come up, even when the newly constituted government is yet to take-off, and concerns are that politics has always taken precedence over governance, how do you think this puzzle could be solved?
What I said before is that let us change the attitude of voting people because of their names, because we know them and because they come from our tribe, should change. We should vote for people whether they are from our tribe or not, on the basis of the programme they offered to change the country for the better.
If people come with a programme in black and white and we know exactly what they are going to do to change the country for the better, then we will be able to ask them of their performance year after year. But, if people come and we voted for them just because they come from our tribe, then nothing will change, we will continue to deteriorate and there will be no progress in the country.
That is the issue. Let us go back to the basics, let the political parties be returned to the members. Like I said, (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo changed the tradition whereby leaders are elected by the people. The party chairman is the leader of the party, but he changed it so the party chairman is different and the president becomes the leader of the party.
Under Obasanjo, within a short period of time, the entire working committee of his political party was changed three times for fresh people. They brought in new people as chairman, deputy chairman, secretary, treasurer and what have you. They are not doing things the way it should be done. If they did not do things the way he liked, they were removed and another set was brought in. We should change that and stop making presidents and governors as leaders of the party.
The people elected by the members of the party as congress or convention should be the leaders of the party, not because someone is rising to the public office then, power will be restored to the people, the party members and whoever is going to get the mandate of the party members must be somebody who will convince them that he is going to improve the condition of the party, people and the country if elected.
With the reference you made to Obasanjo, you will recall that in 1999 PDP actually brought about the idea of zoning…
No, you are wrong, maybe you were young at the time, it was NPN (National Party of Nigeria) that introduced the idea of zoning and rotation, so PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) only adopted it.
Now, based on calculations for 2023, this debate has come on the table again about which geopolitical zone should throw up candidates for the presidency in 2023. A school of thought argues that the same scenario that played out 20 years ago, when the Southwest was made to field presidential candidates should also obtain, what is your take on that?
That one happened by accident. You know in that election, we had APP (All Peoples Party), PDP and AD (Alliance of Democracy). PDP got about 17 or 18 million votes in the National Assembly election, APP got almost 10 million votes, AD got about 5 million votes.
Put together AD and APP had about 16 million votes, so in order for them to be able to gather the necessary votes to defeat PDP, they agreed to enter into a working alliance. I presided over the meeting of the APP side to form the alliance. So, that change was brought about by the APP/AD alliance otherwise APP would have produced someone from the North, AD would have produced somebody else from the South West and PDP would have produced whoever they wanted to produce.
So do not compare that because it was an abnormality, an accident, an aberration. It was not done by arrangement. We have two major political parties in Nigeria, if there is going to be zoning and rotation, each party will adopt it on convenience.
At the moment, PDP is in opposition, APC is in power from 2019 till 2023.Now, it is up to them to decide where their presidential candidates will come from. I think they have already made up their mind that since the Vice-President comes from there, the president will come from the South West.
PDP had Atiku Abubakar as their presidential candidate in the last election, though he is still in the court and depending on the outcome of the court case, I do not know what will be their decision for the next election. But, APC for the next election cannot dream of presenting a presidential candidate from the North after Buhari has done two terms of eight years.
Some chieftains of the party say that what will obtain in 2023 is that the zones that have not produced a president, that is, Northeast and Southeast, will slug it out at the presidential primary since this is a democracy…
I know what you are trying to arrive at. It is not a military regime. It is a democracy. It is the vote that will determine and parties try to get votes through persuasion, so whoever wants the system to change should embark on trying to win the hearts of the majority of Nigerian voters, if they accept his position so be it.
You also will notice that rigging has continued to be a permanent feature of Nigerian electoral system. The fact is in recent dispensation, we saw the introduction of inducement, pay to play, how do you think this democratic ideal you are referring to can come to pass in Nigeria?
Unless we get it right on the method of election, it is not possible. I think we need to perfect our system of election so that people’s votes will count. Until we are able to make sure that what the people want when they vote is what will translate to victory, we cannot get it right.
So, our attention should be concentrated on correcting electoral processes in Nigeria, doing away with the possibility of rigging, because what is troubling us in Nigeria is rigging. Every election in Nigeria is rigged.
Election for a councillor, local government chairman, National Assembly members, governors and president are all rigged. Until we are able to overcome the culture of rigging election, election will be a sham.
And if election is a sham, the wishes of the voters are not what is translated into getting somebody into power, we will not get it right. Let us try to change that situation so that whoever people voted for would be the one to emerge as winner of the election.
That will guarantee that those people who are looking for positions will make sure that when they get elected, they will do the right thing for the people so that next time people will vote for them. And those who do not, you are sure that next time people will not vote for them and so when you put value into election and people know that only the will of the people/electorate will prevail, then they will begin to do the needful.
If people believe that they can rig the election, use money to buy over electoral officers and get into public office, they will continue to do that. Now, in our country, politics have spoilt itself, it has now destroyed business, most of the people doing business are politicians, who stole money from public treasury. And it has destroyed professionalism, you go in to become a lawyer, an engineer and so on, but ultimately, it is the money that will determine what you will become.
Let us get rid of that situation, because the will of the people will always prevail and that will make us go back to the basics and do the right thing for our country.
But with people paying as much as N20million to purchase expression of interest and nomination forms, do you think we are still practising universal adult suffrage?
It is not the voter that is the problem now, it is the candidate. If you spend N20million or N10million for the purchase of the expression of interest to contest, you will know that to be elected, he would have spent a hundred times the amount he paid for the expression of interest form. And when that is done, you know that the moment he gets elected, he would be out to recoup his investment. So, it cannot be how he rules the people, but it will then be how he got his money back. That would be a vicious circle that will continue.
Let us do away with the issue of money. Why N20million for expression of interest, what are they going to do with the N20million? Let it be as liberal as possible so that anybody who is popular with the people can come and vie for any position that is of interest.
They are putting this money in other to bar popular people. It is not the popular people that are elected or nominated, it is people with money. So these things that Babangida called “money bag” is now playing the card in our system as a determining factor.
Looking at the legislature, do you think that arm of government has performed optimally in the last 20 years?
It depends on how people vote in the National or State Assemblies. They spend their money to get elected, but once they are elected they will look for how to get back their money and that is what is happening.
From experience and insight, what things do you think the country needs to do to get it right and move to the future in unity?
First and foremost, let us correct the system of election. If people know that the person they voted for will eventually be the winner, then we are going somewhere. Then in the party, also the system of selecting credible candidates should also be done transparently, it should not be governed by money.
When we correct the anomalies in the political party and the electoral system, then we get the right people into the right positions and they will begin to look at the problems confronting the nation and devise ideas on how to tackle those problems and solve them.
With the challenges confronting this country, especially security and calls for restructuring, do you think fears of disintegration are real or will the country overcome?
I have seen Nigeria when it was only in three regions. Then we started the advocacy for more states, we went into four regions, from there we went into 12, from there we went into 19, from there we went into 21, from there we went into 31 and now we are 36. We keep on changing, but we do not pay attention is to the fact that the more we balkanize the country into administrative units, the more expensive it is to rule the country.
Now, because of the creation of states, the cost of democracy has jumped. 80 per cent of our revenue (federal, state and local government) is expended on bureaucracy and not on development, only 20 per cent is left for development, even that 20 per cent, you know as much as I do that out of it we make provisions for the contractor, we make provisions for bribery; so there is no guarantee that the 20 per cent is going for the interest of the masses.
A chunk of it goes to bribery and the contractors, so we are not getting 20 per cent left for our development. So those that are thinking of restructuring my concern is, they failed to present a blueprint. When we voted for Buhari, we voted for a slogan ‘change’, that Buhari will change or the party will change the country, so we voted for change and nobody asked for what kind of change.
We blindly voted for APC and Buhari and now we didn’t see any change; we are getting to five years, but things are going from bad to worse, security issues and all others. I think what we need to do is to make sure that we change the system so that better people, programmes and ideas are put into positions of authority so that they can change the situation of the country for the better.
INEC has always said that it has no power to moderate the number of political parties, what is your take on Nigerian political parties and party politics?
There is no way you can make progress with a hundred political parties; it is not good for a country. I think the cause is because once INEC provided guidelines for registering political parties, some people went to court and the court did not consider the consequences and they threw away the power of INEC to regulate the registration of political parties. This is what led to the present situation.
Until we change that situation for the better and allow INEC to provide guidelines for political parties to be registered, we will continue to help every Tom, Dick and Harry to form political parties and contest elections. And this is for business nowadays, people will put their money, float political parties, contest election and in the end, the party are formed for bargaining purposes, so that when election starts they begin to bargain with A. B. C. as to who to support and how much votes to get for them.
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