Prof. Akin Oyebode (SAN), a former columnist with PUNCH in the 1970s, taught Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos.
He spoke on politics as the country prepares for the 2019 general elections.
It appears you are not too comfortable with the number of political parties that we have in Nigeria now as we prepare for the 2019 general elections. Why?
It is a joke to register over 90 political parties in one country. To register 90 political parties, it seems we have reduced everything to a child’s play and that is why I am in support of limiting the number of political parties that we have, perhaps by setting some benchmarks as minimum votes that they have to win in the election. For instance, it could be two per cent of the registered votes or five per cent of the electorate, so that we can whittle down this horrendous number of parties. It also gives me this impression that Nigerian parties are not organic parties, they are synthetic and they are almost artificial parties only in name and do not really have root in the community. I have vehemently opposed the registration of the large number of parties. People can be organised but they do not have the right to spoil our political destiny, to make it look like a joke; it is a rude and ugly joke that Nigeria could accept to have up to 90 parties. How would the ballot paper look with 90 political parties? The electorate would be confused!
In all, how many political parties do you think will file candidates in the coming election?
If you remember, the road to hell starts with good intentions. There is a theory of unintended consequences; part of the consequences is to open the floodgate wide to the extent of growing to the ridiculous; that is the situation we have in Nigeria regarding political parties. People now have this idea of anybody can create a political party. We have 90 political parties and we heard that about 57 want to file for presidential candidates. For me, that is too large. We could have five parties or maximum of seven that are believed to be competent or qualified to contest electoral positions. The 90 parties is scandalous and ridiculous, and it is a huge joke which should not be allowed. The Independent National Electoral Commission may not have intended for that to be. But they have set us on a slope that would lead to nowhere because of the consequences of registering too many political parties. It renders the whole exercise unreasonable. We cannot survive with 90 parties.
Talking about the 2019 polls, what specific test should be given to the political parties for them to be taken seriously?
They should establish a threshold, the minimum number of votes of each party that is contending for recognition to win might be two per cent or five per cent of the electorate. Some parties do not get any votes apart from their founders and that is not serious. Nigeria has to go back to the drawing board to draw out the guidelines for according recognition to political parties. Political parties are not for joke, it is the organisation of people aimed at winning political power and it is a very serious engagement. It should not be made available to every group that wants to attain political positions. That is my position.
Do you have any fears about the 2019 elections?
The first is voter apathy, people might just be tired of so many elections and you know generally, the elite do not vote and the intelligent and even the educated. It is the ordinary people that vote. My first fear is that of voter apathy, people getting tired of voting. Make politics unattractive and legislation a part time so that people can have their own profession or jobs, not like people who have become professional politicians. If you do not make it pay too much to attract all manners of people, those that will come in will have means of sustenance. Vote-buying is a symptom of man’s poverty, misery and suffering. People are desperately poor and for them to take something in place of their votes is based on sense, because they will not see those candidates again until another election. So, many of them just feel they do not have anything to lose and therefore they sell their votes. The money bags are given to ordinary poor to motivate them.
You are from Ekiti State, many things were said to have happened during the last governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states where massive vote-buying were recordeed. What should be done to change the trend in subsequent elections?
I am not aware of vote-buying in Ekiti because I stay in Lagos. People feel that somebody has to pay for their suffering and feel there is nothing wrong in getting incentives. Selling of voter cards is a symptom of moral depravity, economic underdevelopment, and poverty of the body and mind. We have to contextualise the incidence of vote-buying and selling. That is the situation.
The 2015 election really generated a lot of tension. Do you think this would be the case in 2019?
The two candidates are non-descript, the choice facing Nigerian electorate is that of six and half a dozen, we have two Fulani Muslims trying to become Nigerian President. Their ethnicity and beliefs have not made it as robust as what would have intended. I do not see the desperation that we have. They are two of a kind and there is no distinction between Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and President Muhammadu Buhari. I do not see excessive heat being generated. The 2019 election will pass without any incidents. I have no doubt in my mind but the people would want to orchestrate a scenario of conflict, pandemonium or chaos. But quite sincerely, things are settled. It is not like 2015 that President Goodluck Jonathan, out of desperation, threw money at all problems. I know what he came to do in Lagos, but at the end, he lost. This time, between Buhari and Atiku, do you think they would fight? It is like somebody lost a bag of money and people found it. It is not a do or die matter. These people know what they are doing and they know there will be Nigeria after them. And the whole continent is looking at us, and they hope we do not shame Africa, because we are at the forefront of Africa. I am very optimistic and I think the election will go without any incidents. We are using technology as much as we can. We might have a repeat of 2015 but not in terms of the excesses manifested in 2015.
Would you say that ex-President Goodluck Jonathan is a hero for conceding victory to President Muhammadu Buhari and calling him on phone to congratulate him?
I would say Jonathan is a tragic hero because he confessed about a few weeks ago that (ex-President) Barack Obama of United States was among those that stabbed him in the back. His act was not an act of willingness, he was compelled to do so, he is a mistaken hero. I think we should leave history to judge Jonathan.
The politics of the South-West has become so interesting after the demise of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Do you think there is any key politician in Yoruba land who is imbibing the legacies left behind by Awolowo?
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was an acknowledged and celebrated man of Yoruba extraction. Chief Awolowo left his mark, and the shoes he left behind are too big for anyone to occupy. Anyone who says now he is a successor to Awolowo is a pretender and is playing false game to that kind of leadership in the Yoruba land. The Yorubas were led in the 2015 in voting for Jonathan and I am not sure that the feat can be replicated. (Bola Ahmed) Tinubu who went to the South-West to campaign for Buhari in 2015 cannot go there for Buhari and succeed like he did again in 2019 because the atmosphere and terrain has changed in terms of politics. They will be very spectacular about their votes. I think the contest in Lagos is going to be fair.
You are aware that the late Gani Fawehinmi was a proponent of multi-party system, because it gives room for people to participate in politics. He went to court and won. Do you see any correlation with that?
Gani Fawehimi’s case is in order to get the National Conscience Party registered. But if you remember this saying, the road to hell is placed with good intentions. There is a theory of unintended consequences, the part of the consequences is to open the floodgate wide to the extent that it has grown to the ridiculous. That is the situation we have in Nigeria regarding political parties. People now have this idea of anybody can create a political party. It’s a very good idea that Gani had to test the legality of parties in court and he won his case. But people have now bastardised it.
What are your fears for the 2019 elections?
The electronic voting which is the way to go is not yet put in place because the President has not acted judiciously on the bill-the amendment bill of the Electorate Act. Until something is done along that line, we might have a repeat of 2015 but not in terms of the excesses that were manifested in 2015.
Talking about the Electoral Act, why do you think the President is delaying his assent to the amended bill?
I cannot speak for President Buhari, he has people and competent spokespersons who speak for him, that tells everything he does or refuses to do. Who am I to know his rationale? I know that some parties have said, if he doesn’t sign the Electoral Act, then the election should not hold or they should boycott.
Do you subscribe to that?
No, that is excessive. Boycott has never helped any election especially from the experience of this council. If you boycott, then the party will go on without you. It is an exercise in futility for anybody to bring in boycott election because people who want to vote will still vote and you will be nursing your wound in the political wilderness. – Culled from Punch.