Chief Supo Shonibare a pro-democracy activist and chieftain of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, played a critical role in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) during the dark era of the late tyrant, General Sani Abacha. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, Shonibare rubuked political parties for their undemocratic traits and explained why Afenifere had not adopted President Goodluck Jonathan
There is skepticism that the 2015 elections will not hold because the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not prepared. With the prevailing political situation, can the 2015 elections hold?
I do not think INEC is the problem. It is the political parties that determine the conduct and process of elections. This is what plays out in our neighbouring countries like Benin Republic. You cannot see police officers in their polling units. Benin Republic has that maturity. Our politicians are the problems because they see politics as do-or-die affairs. INEC can only conduct elections for people who turn up and rely largely on ad-hoc staff. So, the success or failure of the general election lies with the political parties. I simply mean the political parties that have governments in place. So, if the general election is not successful, the blame should be placed on the leading parties. INEC has tried its best. People are desperate and can always circumvent the process put in place.
The distribution of permanent voter’s card has raised a lot of questions about INEC’s preparedness. Some PVCs are missing. Only 60 percent of the PVCs have been collected, suggesting a good number of people will be disenfranchised. Do you think we are heading for a crisis?
It is an ongoing exercise. INEC has directed people who have not collected their permanent voter’s cards to go to their local government and get them there. People have to go through some inconvenience to enable them exercise their right to vote. In the United States, people will be on the queue for hours just to exercise their voting rights. This is a developed country. Likewise, people should be ready to go through some trouble and make sacrifice to get their permanent voter’s cards from their local governments. If those who complain have gone to their local governments and denied opportunity to register, that can be an issue. We travel to do things that are beneficial to us. In this case, we should be ready to make sacrifice. We should bear in mind that there is no election that will be perfect. It is a matter of how leeway INEC has given each Nigerian to exercise their rights to vote.
Insecurity, especially in the North, poses threat to peaceful conduct of the general election. As a result, some people have been canvassing that elections should not hold in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Do you subscribe to this school of thought?
The prevailing insecurity in the North is a major challenge. But this condition is not sufficient to disenfranchise these states from participating in the process. Agreed, there is insurrection in some parts of these states. We are witnesses to elections conducted in countries that in a state of war. There were elections in Iraq. There were elections in Afghanistan. There were elections in Mali. Even in Somali and Syria, there were some forms of election. These countries conducted elections despite the very high rates of insurgencies. So, insecurity should not be an excuse for not conducting elections in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. It is left for our security forces to put measures at polling units across the country so that people can cast their votes. If elections cannot be conducted in these states, the federal government is telling us that the states have been taken over by terrorists. If the federal government in control, it should be able to conduct election.
With the defection of Chief Olusegun Osoba, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) suddenly becomes a third force in the politics of Nigeria. Do you think the party can make significant impact?
We are an emerging democratic state. In this light, it is the duties of leaders in any stable polity or any emerging democratic culture to always provide alternative political platform to those who think the existing political leaders do not deserve to lead the country. But in the final analysis, what determines the success of any political platform is the people. All we can do is to provide the platform. It is left for the people to embrace or identify with the platform. Also, the people can choose to ignore the platform. It appears the SDP has been embraced in Ogun and Oyo. It is gradually being embraced in Lagos and Ondo. We hope the SDP will be embraced in Ekiti and other states in the South-west. We hope it will be embraced in South-south. We hope it will be embraced in other parts of the country. It is the decision of some leaders, who think there is a need for the democratic social transformation of Nigeria… For us, most of our rulers play predatory politics and have not exhibited any vision that is consistent with a truly federal state. We think the vision to transform our country to a true federal state was the underlying philosophy of the founders of our group, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and six other leaders that founded the Action Group. Our vision for establishing the SDP is line with the vision of our founding fathers. We think should offer Nigerians an alternative platform. We can’t see any difference between the APC and PDP. Ideological issues on how transform our society has not been transformed by the two political parties. At least, we have provided a platform that has a clear vision to address ideological issues in the country. After providing this platform, it is left for our people to decide if there will be a change.
Does your reference to Chief Obafemi Awolowo suggest that the SDP was established by some leaders of South-west?
No, SDP is not a Yoruba party. It was put in place by twelve leaders. Yoruba leaders happen to be part of those who established the party. The success in other regions is a function of the effort their leaders were able to put in place. In South-east, for instance, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife is a leading figure. It is not a Yoruba party. NADECO too was never a Yoruba platform. But it appears the SDP is being accepted in some parts of South-west more than other part of Nigeria. Afenifere has adopted the SDP because its manifesto, ethos and philosophy are closer to what we believe in Afenifere. It is an egalitarian movement.
With the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari, most Nigerians are optimistic that things will change. Do you subscribe to this public perception of the APC presidential candidate?
General Buhari is a good man. I have supported him twice. I supported him when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was seeking second term, Afenifere supported him. At that time, he was not a popular candidate in South-west. When he was actually contesting against former President Umaru Yar’Adua, we supported him. Some of us, who are pro-democracy advocates including late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Femi Falana, supported him. Our problem has to do with his associates in this venture. In 2011, Afenifere took a different decision. We took decision that we would support the South-south candidate. We had a meeting with the South-south caucus and we decided to support the presidential candidate from the South-south. At this point, we have not taken any decision. But we are wary of his associates. Buhari has track records of delegating powers to those who are his associates. There is no doubt that he has lived a Spartan life that cannot be said to be overtly corrupt.
If someone has a track record of delegating critical powers, it makes some of us uncomfortable.
Is it true that Afenifere has an understanding to support President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015?
As far back as 2009, we had Southern Assembly, which involved the leadership of South-east, South-south and South-west. There was a consensus at that time that the leadership of the country should be zoned to the South. In that consensus, because the South-west had produced president before, it was agreed that South-south and South-east should agree on a candidate. At that time, President Jonathan was already in charge. There was a consensus that the entire South should support his candidature. It was not that Afenifere had a separate pact. It was the decision of Southern Assembly, of which Afenifere was a part.
After the 2011, we did not ask for any position or any patronage. All we asked for was the stability of Nigeria. This will depend on Jonathan’s ability to change the structure of Nigeria from the present structure and that there was a need to have a constitution that derives its power from the people. He promised that he would consider our request. We agreed that there was a need for constitutional conference. But the conference was exactly done in the manner we recommended. He was able to appreciate the need to convene a constitutional conference. We also complained about the deplorable state of federal roads in South-west. We demanded that the federal government should come up with a prototype project that would sustain the highway. Already, work is ongoing on Lagos-Ibadan expressway and Sagamu-Ore expressway. We also raised the issue of power supply with him.
Does it mean that Afenifere will support President Jonathan’s reelection bid in 2015 given the existing understanding?
As I said, we have not taken any position on that. As a group that represents the interest of the people, the issue is who will be able to do more for our fatherland between the two leading candidates. For instance, in spite of improvement in power supply, a lot of people still do not have stable power supply. Basically, we will support any candidate who has policies that will address critical challenges in such sectors as power, education, infrastructure deficit and insecurity among others. These are the major issues for us. We think the issue of security requires concerted international intervention to enable it abate. We see that there is insurgency in other parts of Africa as well. Even in Mali, it took international intervention to stop Mali from being completely overrun. We think any candidate, who wants to govern Nigeria from 2015, has to present to us how he wants to engage international community in coming to our rescue. There is possibility for
us to support Buhari, even though he has not formally approached Afenifere. President Jonathan has not approached Afenifere with respect to his reelection bid.