Prior to the breakdown in the alliance talks between presidential candidates Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, human rights activist, Aisha Yesufu, shared her thoughts on the alliance.
The alliance talks between Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso failed mainly because they couldn’t agree on who should be the candidate and running mate, in your view, who should have been the candidate?
In my opinion, Obi should have been the candidate and Kwankwaso the running mate. This is not about age or who is older. With what is on ground now, Peter Obi is more competent, and we have had eight years of a northerner being a president, so it’s only fair for the presidency to move to the other part of the country to maintain a balance. If they win the election, with the current arrangement, it would go back to the North and Kwankwaso could contest. Also, if you look at it in terms of the reach right now, Peter Obi has a wider reach than Kwankwaso. It’s my opinion and others could have theirs. Given the critical times we are in, it’s not to say he (Kwankwaso) would collapse his structure. We are already telling people to vote for candidates, not the political party. People who already won the party’s ticket for other positions like state and national assemblies and governorship would still fly the party’s flag. If they are competent persons, people would still vote for them. At the end of the day, you would have what you normally have in a parliamentary system where you have like two parties coming together to form a government. That’s what it would have been like. We look forward to seeing what both of them would come up with eventually.
Kwankwaso’s supporters say he was a two-term governor, a former minister and former senator while Obi’s only experience in government was when he served as a governor. What do you make of that argument that Kwankwaso is more experienced?
Let’s look at the example of the United States. Joe Biden had more experience than former President Barrack Obama and he (Biden) stayed longer at the senate than Obama did but that didn’t stop him from being a running mate. Biden was older and had been in politics before Obama. At the time Obama contested, he (Biden) didn’t run but he later did and today he’s the president of the United States. I think at every moment, it should not be about our selfish interest; it should be about what is good for the nation and people should be able to read the mood of their environment. Something is going on; the Nigerian youths are rallying round Peter Obi, so there is a momentum that is being built around him. Kwankwaso doesn’t even have the movement up till now, so what is wrong with being a running mate. It shouldn’t be about the age, or I have done this for this long and such things. It should be about what is the right thing to do. It’s unfair we are even thinking about another northerner, who is also a Muslim when we just currently have someone from there. Where is the equity in that? Ordinarily, we would have loved to say we only need people who are competent but this is where we are now. They (Obi and Kwankwaso) were both in the Peoples Democratic Party and in 2019 I think there was a sort of gentleman’s agreement whereby a lot of candidates from the South stayed away, and now it’s their turn to stay away and people are coming to say something else. It’s just not fair. People must always have a sense of belonging in their country. At this point, I think it’s only fair to say let power go back to the South and in the southern part, there is a region that has yet to produce a president, and beyond that he’s among the frontline presidential candidates that we have.
Some have also said Obi’s movement is on Twitter and that neither he nor the Labour Party has structure nationwide to win a presidential election. What do you make of that argument?
The first thing is to ask; is there anybody who lives on Twitter? I want to see someone who has built a house on Twitter. We are all human beings who have places to lay our heads at the end of each day. No matter how you tweet, you will not sleep there. There is no bed on Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. You would still leave that space and ‘return’ home. What is this structure they talk about? It’s not just about buildings or party machineries. Structures are the people. Even in the bigger parties, the structure is about the people. People are supporting him and they are taking ownership of the movement. It’s not even an Obi’s movement. It’s a movement that has taken a life of its own, and they are saying enough is enough of just waiting that the politicians would do the right thing. What have the structures they have had all these years produced other than bloodshed, mayhem and grief. People are tired of that and they want to build their own structures and they are doing it. So, it’s at their own peril to think Peter Obi doesn’t have structure and his supporters are only in the social media. People are talking to one another, they understand that they are the structure and they are putting in their all. For years, I have been saying to people that whatever we do, we must ensure we are putting our money where our votes are and it is so gratifying to see Nigerians do that. They are not waiting for the candidates to bring money; they are using their money to do things. People are doing T-shirts, billboards and donating their offices. Those are the structures, nothing else.
Did PDP not lose the presidential election in 2019, did the party not have structure? You also see a lot of people, especially of the PDP, telling people that ‘don’t waste your vote’, and the question is that, the vote they were given in 2019, did they win with it? People are no longer held back by their fears. They are moved by their conviction. People are no longer going to vote out of fear but out of conviction. So, it’s better for them to vote for people they know to be capable, rather than the person they think would win, because at the end of the day, voting for the person you think would win has got us into the mess we are in now in Nigeria.
It’s few days to go, do you think Obi and Kwankwaso should find a way to work together or they should look for alternatives?
For me, I think there is no need for them to work together. If the chemistry is not there, forget about it. There is no need forcing it and I don’t think that is the only way Peter Obi can win the 2023 election. It’s just one of the ways. He should look for another way to keep going. At this moment, there is no need forcing that union; it’s over and done with. Let everybody move on and let the best person win. I feel it would have made it easier and more pragmatic (for them to work together) but it also shows that for some it’s not about the country but about self interest and nobody is talking about justice and equity. What is most important is who the Nigerian people want. There are so many things with this election; nobody can say this would be the winner. It depends on the people who are ready to put in the work and would get it at the end of the day. We have so many things working for us, like the new Electoral Act. Some of the shenanigans our politicians used to can’t happen anymore. There will be no power of incumbency because the president (Major General Muhammadu Buhari) is not contesting. So, the message to Nigerians is that they are the structure and enough of voting out of fear. By voting continuously for structure and incompetence, we have wasted our lives. It is time to stop wasting our lives and vote for people who are competent. And it’s not just about the presidency, it’s about who becomes the governor, senator and House of Representatives or state House of Assembly member. People should vote for candidates instead of parties.