Otunba Gani Adams is the National Coordinator of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). In this interview, Adams took a critical look at the way this year’s general elections were rescheduled and declared that it was a right step that saved the country from anarchy. Excerpts:
What is your take on the current state of the nation?
Well, this is election period. And it is expected that, during the process towards elections, there is always tension. Recollect that when there were governorship elections in some states recently, there was tension everywhere. The impression created was that heaven would fall in those states after the elections. But interestingly, on the days of the elections, there was calm, there was peace. People went out to the polling booths, cast their votes, and waited until the results were declared. Although, some contestants went to challenge the results at the tribunal, which is normal. So, the process is not that bad. It is unlike what happened in 1979 when we could not count the number of people killed by political thugs. I think we are gradually moving away from full scale thuggery to maturity. It is sad however that some of politicians nowadays still keep their thuggery department. But then, depending on political thugs to cause mayhem has reduced drastically. It is not as pronounced as what we had in 1979 and 1983.
Even, it is not like in 1999 and 2003 during the process that brought in former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The process of casting vote now is different. Jega’s system is going for accreditation in the morning and coming back to vote at noon. After the voting, the retuning officer will then count and announce the result at the polling centre.
And the total number of votes cast must not be more than the total number of accredited voters. It is unlike in the past when all the ballot boxes containing the ballot papers would be transported to a coalition centers. It was during the transportation that some ballot boxes either disappeared or exchanged. We hope that through this process, there would be free and fair election, although some skirmishes may be witnessed along the line. These skirmishes arise because of interest which is always economic. The economy of Nigeria is the biggest in Africa. and it is expected that those eying one post or the other, even in America, would have a sort of economic interest in mind when contesting.
It is however heartwarming that we are getting mature day in day out. And we have to appreciate the man at the helms of affairs at the centre for that. If you attack President Goodluck Jonathan ten times, he would hardly react one time.
How would you react to the cross fire between the major political parties towards the elections?
I will advise them to remember that utterances can bring peace and tranquility while the same utterances can bring war and crisis to the society. So, they should not underrate the gravity of our utterances especially when it is for public consumption. Also, the media, whether online, electronic or print, should be cautious about whatever they dish out. The world is now a global village where any information dished out get to global domain. They should realize that they are not communicating to only Nigerians. They are communicating to the whole world. By every evening, most of the news papers lodge their news stories into the website. Even some of developments we are not aware of in Nigeria are well known to the international communities. So, we have to be careful and the politicians should play according to the rule of the game.
What role is your group going to play at the poll?
We would vote for the candidate of our choice. And the candidate of our choice is President Goodluck Jonathan for many factors and for many reasons. We realize that it is during his administration that OPC enjoys peace. Nobody is haunting us. It is easy for government to provoke any association into causing crisis with an aim to nail it.
But throughout Jonathan’s five year administration, no security agency was set against us to provoke us. Another reason is that, President Jonathan took the bull by the horns by organizing the National Conference that we have been clamouring for since 1992. Before the 1993 election, the late Alao Aka-Bashorun started a cause by asking for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). Although the one we just concluded was not sovereign because the argument was that you cannot take away sovereignty from the incumbent president. So, he organized a National Conference that came up with about 633 recommendations. And we realized that the opposition does not believe in that National Conference.
I remember vividly that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu came in from abroad and called a world press conference at the Airport to attack the conference because he did not have interest in it. Unfortunately, I, as a person, I bought the idea of true federalism from Tinubu. Although, I believe in restructuring, we saw him as an apostle of true federalism from the beginning but he changed and deviated when power and money came.
And General Muhammadu Buhari, before he became opposition candidate condemned the National Conference more than seven times. It described it as exercise in futility and waste of public funds. And APC as a party, although, Chief Bisi Akande was tactical when he was the chairman by not condemning the conference. But when they realized later that the conference was unstoppable, former Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi came out publicly to say they could not stop their people from attending the conference. But the role some of their people played in the National Conference showed that they reluctantly sent in their candidates.
They were not interested, to the extent that one of their candidates from Oyo State disclosed that the APC governors have told them to align with the northern interest in the National Conference. So, that convinced me beyond any iota of doubt that, if APC assumed power, they will not implement the outcome of the National Conference.
That is the cogent reason we want Jonathan back to complete what he has started. He did not interfere in the affairs of the conference. Even when there was crisis and stalemate during the plenary session about the voting pattern and the leaders from the Niger Delta region went to him to wade in, he declined to wade in. he was quoted to have said that even if the conference recommended his quitting the seat of power, he would quit it.
He said you have come to invite me to declare the conference open, I have done that, so, go and sort yourselves out. That shows that Jonathan is a real democrat. I am not saying he does not have his own shortcomings as a human being. There is no way one would walk without his head shaking. But not withstanding, in comparison and in antecedent, Jonathan is far better than Buhari.
Are you in support of the polls shift?
Any reasonable Nigerian will support the shift. The shift was a blessing to the country. It was later clear that it was Jega and his INEC that were not ready for the election. The number of registered voters that had PVCs as at February 14 was not up to 50 percent. Even now as we speak, a lot of people are yet to have their PVCs. Thank God we never went ahead to have the elections as earlier scheduled, Nigeria would have been in crisis by now. If a few people were privileged to vote where a larger number of the people are disenfranchised, the people in the majority would pounce on the privileged few and there would be anarchy in the land. The shift has taken care of that. Avoidable chaos has been averted.
With the goings on now, do you foresee post-election harmony?
The way things are going now, if not well managed, I foresee crisis after the elections. My position is that, if Jonathan wins, he has to buckle up and reach out to the opposition to persuade them to avoid emergence of a movement from the elites of the North, apart from the known Boko Haram, that would confront the government. If Buhari wins, the Niger Delta guys may not want to be part of this country anymore. And I suspect that the spirit of unity in Nigeria among the Ndigbo would also reduce because some of their traders have been chased away from the North. Even, those South-East indigenes, who are suspected to be pro-Jonathan are being intimidated. In that regards, the kind of love and patriotism you may have for your country would reduce. The kind of sympathy you may have for your country would reduce. Unlike in the south where everybody goes about his/her business without hindrance or molestation. You can build your church beside a mosque and nobody would challenge you. But in the North, 20 Buhari cannot stop the carnage that would follow such closeness.
So, my advice is that we should give the south-south through Jonathan a second term in office. After that, we can then shift attention to the north. I say this so as to douse the mounting tension and to avoid post election crisis.