In this interview with THISDAY broadcast arm, Arise TV, lawyer and rights activist, Dele Farotimi, speaks on why Peter Obi has become the rallying point for the massive Nigerian youths and why the Nigerian state should ensure there is free, fair, and credible election in 2023. Excerpts:
Only recently the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) gave the platform of its 62nd Annual General Conference to the presidential candidates to express their views. We had Atiku there, we had Shettima representing AsiwajuTinubu, we had Mr. Peter Obi, we had other candidates at that event. What is your assessment, looking at these candidates and their performance?
The NBA did not do well. I am of the view that if you have decided that you are opening up the space for the presidential candidates and even their surrogates such as Shettima to come and speak at the conference, it should have gone the whole way to invite all the other candidates. I don’t understand why they did not invite OmoyeleSowore
Is OmoyeleSowore your favourite candidate?
If it is based on ideology, I should be supporting Sowore, but there is an issue I believe needs to be addressed. Nigeria claims to be a federation, and one of the foundations of that federation is federal character. That federal character didn’t come recently, it’s something that has been in our constitution as far back as 1954. Going by that, as far as I am concerned I cannot look beyond an Igbo candidate in this race and thanks to God there is an eminently qualified Igbo candidate in this race and that is the person I will be supporting.
That is Peter Obi?
Yes. To be precise, that’s the person I will be supporting in the coming election.
Looking at the coming election, what do you fear the most about 2023 elections?
Absolutely nothing. What is the point of fear, fear is merely a petrifying source, you go to the root, petrify means that you get rooted to the spot. I am excited about the coming election. I am excited by the energy of the youth who have been given hope by Peter Obi’s ambition, or should I say, his candidacy. Nigeria had become a hopeless place over the last seven years, completely shorn of hope. The Buhari presidency has sucked up all the energy, all the hopes of the Nigerian people and not everybody is going to be able to escape from Nigeria, not everyone is going to be able to run. If we are not going to run away and we will not descend into violence, we will have to be given hope in one form or the other. And the only candidate that has energised the youth and given them hope in this season is Peter Obi. If that hope is dashed, if the Nigerian state contrives to take away what appears to be the only reason that the Nigerian youth wakes up in the morning with hope in his heart, then there would be reasons to be afraid, there would be several reasons to fear, because hope denied provokes violence. Nigeria is already violent enough as it is, but to now take away the hope that there might be some change at the end of this process, that is to be feared, other than that, no fear.
So, if that happens?
I am not sure that Nigeria is prepared for what is likely to happen if the peoples’ votes are stolen, or if their will is discounted. Let us be clear, ENDSARS was essentially a protest of the hopeless. The only thing that appears to have energised the same people who were largely involved in that struggle is the candidacy of Peter Obi. They have been silenced in terms of noise-making, everybody is facing the election, you will see a bit of exuberance that has been mistaken in some quarters for the Obidient movement being combative, but that’s because they have been rendered hopeless. This (Obi’s candidacy) is the only thing they are holding on to, so for me it’s going to be an interesting time, the coming five to six months will be very interesting, but the only thing to be feared is anyone who is thinking that they might be able, at one level or the other, to truncate the hope of the Nigerian people, other than that, there is nothing to be feared, its only excitement ahead.
What do you make of the series of meetings that some sitting governors and politicians and Nigerian leaders had in London last week. Before London, we had heard of meetings in Spain, Turkey, etc. Some people say, why can’t political issues be discussed inside Nigeria that they want to lead?
It was Fela Anikulapo Kuti of blessed memory, who sang a song we generally reduced its title to “AlhajiAlhaji,” and in that song he spoke extensively of how Nigerians are essentially ruled by strangers. Our rulers have practically destroyed everything that used to be good about Nigeria. Their doctors are abroad, their children’s schools are abroad, some of them see their dentists abroad, so there shouldn’t be any surprise in having them junket outside Nigeria anytime they are seeking “solution” to Nigerian problems. So, in speaking to the fact that they would meet everywhere but in Nigeria, we must also factor in the fact that these are people who might live in Nigeria but their homes are actually not in Nigeria. Their homes are either in the South of France or the Potomac, anywhere but in Nigeria, because they have made Nigeria practically unbearable and unliveable for those unfortunate enough to be trapped in here and have nowhere else to go. We might look to the fact that they are having meetings and settling disputes outside our shores, but the reality is that when you conceal the truth of the matter that they actually don’t live here, they are Alhaji’s, they are strangers to us, they cannot feel our pains, there is very little by way of empathy, some of them will lose elections and relocate to their homes abroad and then they will come back few months to elections, so there is nothing really new, its just that the election season has tended to highlight these issues for us. They are just doing what is normal to them.
So, what should the people do as regards to this, shaving their heads in their presence, not even in their absence here? How can people stop this?
I have always believed that it is up to the Nigerian people to identify what their own interests are, and to stop waiting for those who are their afflictors to tell them what the problems are. Let me give you a case in point. Every time we speak about oil theft in Nigeria, Nigerians have failed to connect the issues. If you consider the fact that it is not the oil thief that is carrying jerry can that is stealing all the oil that has made us impecunious, in fact we are the only oil producing country in the world that is going through the current economic hardship that we are experiencing in Nigeria, and that is not by accident, the people themselves have not managed to connect the issue to the point where they now begin to demand answers. Sri Lankans don’t have two heads, but they understand the issue, connected to the issues plaguing them and they have resolved to find solutions to the issues plaguing them by holding their rulers accountable. We don’t hold our rulers accountable, and that is why they ride roughshod all over us because we do not connect the cause and the effect.
The elections are coming. If the Nigerian people will take the time to look at what ails them and then objectively look to those who might resolve their problems, then perhaps, these issues will become a little less disconnected as they are, but as long as the Nigerian people continue to wait for those who are the ones afflicting them to be the ones to resolve their problems, we will continue on this long journey to nowhere.
What role should the Nigerian people be playing, you can say that they (the rulers) are the owners of the country, but the group of the Nigerian people have handed this country over to them.
There is always cause and effect. When a people have had ignorance weaponized against them for over 30 years, when poverty has equally been weaponized against them for the better part of the last 25 to 30 years, what you find is that their capacity to discern is seriously compromised, and when the capacity to discern is seriously compromised, you then have your enemy pointing out your enemy, and that is the situation the Nigerian is faced with. The role of religion in making sure that the Nigerian remains supine is not to be equally underplayed, but we must understand that the victims are constantly in need of those who are able to help them to look beyond the immediate five thousand Naira, ten thousand Naira, or even the gratification of its my tribesman that is there, but the affliction is common to all Nigerians. Let’s take for instance the people of Katsina state, the General in office, his eight years in office will soon be gone. Exactly what has he birthed for the people of Katsina, or any one of those who were busy shouting Sai Baba less than eight years ago? What has it birthed for them – woes, insecurity, untold pain, hunger, poverty. These are the reasons why we cannot give up on seeking to explain to the people to look beyond all these dividing lines and to then identify the common interests which should bind them and take them beyond the divisions that these rulers or ruiners have put in place. It is easy to blame a man who has been conditioned with hunger and ignorance, who has no value for the votes, which makes him receptive to the token