It’s shameful for PDP to accuse anyone of intimidating voters —Isa-Onilu
National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Lanre Isa-Onilu, speaks on the decision of the party to endorse Senator Ahmad Lawan as President of the Ninth Senate and the resistaþe put forward by Senators Danjuma Goje and Ali Ndume, among other sundry national issues. TAIWO AMODU was there. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the just concluded 2019 general election?
This election cannot be likened to any previous election. It was unique in many ways. This is the first election where the bookmakers were off the mark in several respects. Not many could have imagined, for instance, that certain big name politicians could lose elections the way they did.
You saw what happened in Oyo State where Governor Abiola Ajimobi lost his senatorial election. That was one-third of the state in which he has been acknowledged to perform so well. You saw what happened in Kwara State, where Bukola Saraki, with his larger than life image, lost practically everything. He could not win even his own ward. Under his watch, all contestants who associated with him lost elections. You saw two sitting APC governors in Bauchi and Adamawa states battling to regain their seats as they faced questionable defeat from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
There are a number of issues we should pay attention to in this scenario. One is the obvious and increasing sophistication of the voters. You could see voting patterns that showed the voters have become aware of their power to choose. You could see deliberate voting patterns, such that in many states, the voters were targeting contestants with votes. In other words, you could see voters in a particular environment voting for candidate ‘A’ in APC and candidate ‘B’ in another party. What this means is that ballot papers are becoming instruments of political justice. Politicians can no longer take the electorate for granted when they are in power. Voters understand the power of the ballot; more so, they understand that ballot is an instrument to punish political office holders they believe have performed below expectations.
Would you then say the 2019 elections were free and fair with the massive deployment of the police and soldiers?
I understand the fact that we would never appreciate the calamity we escaped because of the roles played by the security personnel. We can begin to question the deployment of the security agencies because we managed to minimise violence and save numerous lives of innocent Nigerians that could have been wasted by desperate opposition politicians. It is normal for a patient to complain of the bitterness of the medicine after he had recovered from his ailment. Of course, it is easy to forget the magnitude of a disaster after averting it.
We owe the security agencies a lot of gratitude for their professionalism and patriotic engagements with all the people and institutions that participated in the elections. But we must not forget that this was possible only because we have a President Muhammadu Buhari who showed uncommon statesmanship. This is the first time you have a president that was more desirous of guaranteeing the civic rights of the citizens than his own ambition for a renewed mandate.
The picture you just painted is contrary to the belief of the position. For instance, the PDP would argue that President Buhari deployed the soldiers to intimidate opposition candidates across Nigeria to pave the way for the victory of the APC candidates. Do you disagree with this?
It is very shameful for the PDP to accuse anyone, let alone President Buhari, of intimidating voters or manipulating the electoral process. The records are there. All the elections conducted under the PDP witnessed brazen deployment of brute force. We witnessed open state sponsorship of violence against leaders and members of the opposition party. We witnessed outright disenfranchisement of voters in areas where PDP was unpopular. How do you compare such a disgraceful mobilisation of state’s instruments of coercion under PDP as they forcibly foisted themselves over the country for those years of gruesome oppression of the electorate with the elections of 2019 under the watch of President Buhari?
This is where the media need to step up the game. They need to do more in playing their role as interpreters of events. The media is not making much meaning out of the events going on in the country. And that should bother industry stakeholders like us. Otherwise, the media would have led the celebration of the exemplary democratic credentials of President Buhari. How did the media miss the fact that the president did not mention a single member of opposition parties throughout his campaigns across the 36 states and the FCT? How come the media missed the fact that the president stuck to issues and not personalities throughout his campaigns? That was a new vista in our politics.
We need to underline this as a significant milestone in our democratic journey. Again, I shuddered to see the media misinterpreting the statement of President Buhari urging voters to vote across party lines. That was unprecedented. It did not go down well even with some APC members. But it showed that not a few Nigerians misunderstood the president’s intention. And I won’t blame anyone. We are not used to seeing a sitting president, with all the powers of suppression at his disposal, subsuming his own interest under his responsibility as a president to guarantee the freedom of the electorate to choose whomever they wished. There is no disputing the fact that President Buhari contested and won the 2019 presidential election on the strength of his performance in the last four years. He demonstrated courage and chose to face other contestants on a level playing field. Under President Buhari, Nigeria has, indeed, reached a new positive height in democracy.
PDP has gone to the tribunal to reclaim what Alhaji Abubakar Atiku has repeatedly called his stolen mandate. Are you bothered by the possible outcome of the court process?
Far from it! Why should anyone bother about such fallacious allegations contained in Alhaji Atiku’s affidavit? That is a theatre of the absurd. Well, there is something to laugh about in its absurdity. Is it the purported figures PDP claimed to have fetched from INEC server? Is it the figures he awarded himself? Well, to be fair to him, he extended his generosity to us in APC by awarding extra one million plus votes to our over 15 million votes. Of course, we do not need such concocted figures. We are satisfied with what the electorate voluntarily gave us during the elections.
Your party, the APC, appears to be heading into another crisis over the election of leaders of the Ninth National Assembly. Many lawmakers are already kicking publicly and insisting they will resist the imposition by your party. How will your party handle this imminent crisis?
I know one cannot be wrong for doing the right thing. Even when it appears you are being misunderstood or blamed for doing what is right, time would always vitiate your position. On this matter of choosing the leaders of the National Assembly, the APC is absolutely right.
There appears to be a lot of ignorance in the polity. I think it is because we have seen anomaly going on for too long under the PDP that we begin to see it as the new normal. What the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party is doing is in line with international democratic practice. Let me provide some education on this matter. What we practised in Nigeria is called presidential system of government, which is fashioned after the American presidential system. It is different from parliamentary political system we practised in the First Republic, which was copied from Britain. In party politics as we have in Nigeria, the only recognised vehicle for electoral contest is political party. Our constitution does not have provision for independent candidate as of now. What this means is that anyone who wishes to contest to become a senator, member of the House of Representatives or any other political office must be a member of a political party.
It goes without saying, therefore, that such a person has invariably subscribed to the ethics and beliefs of such a party. Our progressive beliefs and worldviews in APC are further expressed through our manifesto. So, we conducted primary elections to select candidates who would be given our party’s tickets to represent us in the National Assembly towards the fulfilment of our manifesto. Do not forget that the electorate voted for us, based on the promises contained in our manifesto. So, in other words, every person elected on the ticket of APC is a trustee of our collective mandate as a ruling party. By association and membership, he has accepted to be part of the delivery of our promises wherever he finds himself – the National Assembly, state, local government or the Presidency.
So, you are saying the National Assembly cannot claim independence? This is contrary to the principle of separation of powers, or what do you think?
I have read many otherwise experienced politicians mixing things up in this regard. Let me state clearly that the National Assembly is not a political party. So, it is an abnormality for the Senate or House of Representatives, as institutions, to be in opposition to the executive. The opposition in the National Assembly is PDP and other political parties that have members elected into legislative arm. The members of the National Assembly elected on the tickets of APC cannot be in opposition to their own government. They are part of the ruling party. They are in the National Assembly to help the ruling party deliver on its mandate. The APC lawmakers are the legislative arm of the ruling party, APC. And because they are in the majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, they automatically produce the leaders of the two chambers. Let me emphasise the word ‘produce,’ not ‘elect.’ The rule allows for simple majority and APC has that already.
You may need to ask those who are posting unfounded opinions about this issue when they see the Democrat and the Republican in the United States’ congress conducting elections as a unit to choose leaders. If the Democrat is in the majority in the House of Representatives in the US, it automatically produces the Speaker and other leadership positions that belong to the majority party. The Republican would also produce leaders for the positions that belong to the minority. If the situation were reversed, then the leadership positions would be reversed in like manner. The respective party normally handles this matter and they would return to the chambers to announce their respective new leaders. The process of election in the chambers, therefore, becomes a mere formality.
As a party in the majority in the two chambers, APC does not require the support of the PDP members to elect the Senate president, speaker and the other principal positions. Just as the PDP does not require the support of APC to elect the minority leaders and those other positions that belong to the minority party. This is the convention.
Then where does the separation of powers come in?
There are both the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances between the three arms of government. That is bringing the judiciary into the fold. But let me address the tenets of these principles between the legislature and the executive. The principles have to do with the responsibilities of each arm of government. You cannot, for instance, say because APC is in the majority, ministers who are part of the executive arm should pass laws or put legislation in place; just as it would be wrong for APC lawmakers to say because they are part of the ruling party, they want to begin to award contracts or execute policies. It is the role of the lawmakers to make laws. The difference is that when there is a bill being considered in any of the chambers, the norm is that the APC lawmakers would seek to serve the interest of their own party, while the opposition would seek to serve the interest of the minority party. It is their different perspectives on the floor that distinguish the ideology of the party they represent.
So, both in passing laws and in oversighting the policies, programmes and projects being executed by the executives, the members of the National Assembly have separate powers. But as I said earlier, this is in their responsibilities. In affiliation and advocacy, lawmakers align with the political parties that presented them for election.
You do not think this would create chaos in the National Assembly? Where does the national interest come in?
Thank you for this question. You do not have chaos because debate, conflicting positions and conflict resolution are healthy for the country. For instance, the majority of voters who believe in our government have elected our party. And we have over 15 million Nigerians who said so. But we must also understand and, in fact, we must not forget that there are over 11 million Nigerians who said no to APC in the last election. The difference is that they are in the minority. In addition to that, we have been given majority in both chambers. But the people who don’t want APC have also elected members into the National Assembly to represent their opinions.
These issues are very important to the development of party politics and representative democracy. PDP members cannot get to the National Assembly and insist on obliterating the dividing line between the majority and the minority. The line must be maintained to protect the weak against the strong. It is not for nothing that they say the minority must have its say, while the majority has its way. If they do anything contrary to the norm, as we have had all through the 16 years of PDP, and particularly with the abnormality that subsists in the National Assembly following the 2015 desperate moves by some over-ambitious lawmakers, we would be stewing in absurdity.
What will APC do to members like Senators Ali Ndume and Danjuma Goje who are hell-bent on going against the party’s position by contesting for the Senate president position? You have a similar situation, if not worse, among APC members in the House of Representatives. What happens?
We are not panicky at all. First, we have enough time for discussion. Every member of our party is important. So, we would continue to hold consultations. We are a party that advocates change. When people have got used to abnormality, you must be on top of the game to cause a change. There would always be resistance, no matter how positive the change is. It is important to know that we have a president who is a thorough party man. He is the backbone of the many positive changes we are witnessing in the country now. He is resolute. Driven by uncommon patriotism, he is taking our country to the next level.
What should Nigerians look forward to in the next four years?
Nigerians should expect much more than they witnessed in the last four years, in terms of infrastructure, social investment programmes, job creation, security of life and property, food security, renewed fight against corruption and restoration of our national dignity.
Under the able leadership of our president, we have already turned the corner. President Buhari has an avowed commitment to use the next four years to build a befitting national development edifice on the solid foundation that he has laid in the last four years.