Tucked away in the middle of Anthony village in Lagos, is the hallow legal Chambers of renowned activist and radical lawyer, Festus Keyamo. The serenity of the environment betrays the activism in him. The different plagues which adorn the walls of his spacious office are testimonies of his victorious struggles of human rights crusade and series of struggle for the entrenchment of democracy.
When Saturday Vanguard visited him at his office for this interview, he spoke passionately on the state of the nation. For over forty-five minutes, the lawyer ventilated his views on the postponement of the general election saying all reasons adduced for the shift were balderdash just as he accused President Jonathan for attempting to destroy his own party, PDP. Excerpt.
There was tension before the postponement of the election, even as we speak; there are palpable fears of stalemate, what is your take about the development?
Let me begin by asking a rhetoric question. If it was crystal clear that President Jonathan was coasting to victory from all indices available, despite PVCs and security issues, do you think that the elections would have been postponed? The answer to that question tells the whole story.
The man that is in control of the entire machinery of election is also a candidate. He controls the police, army, customs including those that first flew the kite of postponement are all his appointees. He ignites all of these machinery to seek postponement of the election. He couldn’t have been doing it to favour his opponent. Again, he was not doing it to provide a level playing field for himself and his opponent because the stakes are too high.
The only reason was that he did it to gain an advantage. So, all these talk of PVCs and other things are all balderdash. Why didn’t he reject the so-called victories in 2007 and 2011 elections because in those elections, it was internationally acclaimed by observers that millions of people were disenfranchised. I’m sure you know that the common thing then was that people did not see their names on the register on the day of voting.
In any case, the voter’s registers were not also displayed before the elections. Opposition shouted and shouted, yet, they were not displayed until the day of the election, and you saw strange names on the register. So, the PDP did not know that millions of people have always been disenfranchised and they have been beneficiaries of that. The reasons given for the postponement are nothing but a facade, subterfuge, smokescreen for the real game that is going on behind the scene.
Therefore, the postponement is fueling speculations on a contest that is about to be manipulated. Now, this leads to a sense of frustration, leads to anger. The outburst of the anger may lead to massive protest that may also lead to un-foretold consequences.
So, they should not continue to blackmail people about election violence, that under all circumstances, we condemn. It can’t be under all circumstances, where in broad day light you changed a result you have lost and expect people to be quite. Even without the opposition calling for protest. Violence could be a natural consequence of election manipulation. It happened in Cote de Voire where before the camera, Gbagbo men came to tear the result they were reading to the world and were given another one to read. Under that circumstance, you cannot hold the people down. They should not blackmail the people. Under a circumstance that it is clear that they are losing election and you stop it, you cannot hold the people down. I am not saying anybody is calling for violence, my point is that certain things are natural causes of violence. Everybody should maintain peace.
But security issues, not only PVCs were advanced for the postponement…
All the reasons were balderdash. They started with the PVCs, saying only 65 per cent have been collected. Before the postponement, many states had already declared public holiday to enable people collect their PVCs. At that point also, INEC had said all the PVCs had arrived the country and said the collection would continue up to the eve of election.
So, were they gods to know people were not going to collect their PVCs? So, that argument was outrightly defeated by Jega’s plan. They should have allowed Jega to stool in his own juice at least up to two days to the election and everybody would see that Jega did not make it available. But when they saw that Jega was determined to push on, they came up with the security reason. In previous election, people’s names could not be found in the register and so disenfranchised. So, it was not an aberration that was about to happen. I am not saying it is right, but it was nothing so outrageous to call for a postponement. Secondly, we have always said, that 14 local governments cannot stop 760 local governments ready for election.
For me, it was a non-issue. The numbers of registered voters in those 14 local governments are known already. All that was needed to be done was to get the winner of the Presidential elections from the rest 760 local government councils and add the entire number of registered voters in that area to the losers’ figures assuming that they voted and if the figure is not up to that of the winner, you can declare a winner but if they are more than that of the winner, or that there is an upset, then there is a stalemate. You can now postpone to have supplementary elections in those 14 local government areas. Then you can now deplore the entire machinery of the state to those areas. You could also create a special center for the voters in those areas. Jonathan was only looking for all excuses to favour himself in this election.
Apart from the issue of PVCs, Do you really think INEC was fully ready for the election?
If INEC say they were ready, who am I to say no.
When I see people on television making some baseless comments, I cry for my country. You see fraud in their faces. These are people who are not fit to go close to the microphone. Those who say they believe in Jonathan don’t believe in his person, they believe in his pocket. Those who believe in Buhari believe in his person and I am sure you are seeing the fervor around the country. If you look at Fani-Kayode, you will see insincerity on his face. Just about six months ago, he said the direct opposite of what he is saying now, and nothing has changed between six months and now.
Some months ago, on the issue of corruption and Boko Haram, Fani-Kayode was pounding Jonathan and PDP, telling the world that the Buhari and the opposition are the most credible. The volte face of Fani-Kayode is not 20 per cent, or 90 degree, it is 360 degree volte face. He didn’t even turn the steering little by little, he turned it at once calling white what he had called black, and you made that person your Director of Media.
Was government not tinkering with the process to ensure peace?
The New York Times did an editorial on that. It was wholesome. Again, if you read my interview in Washington Post, all these issues were raised. First of all, tinkering with the election process was to halt the momentum of Buhari, it was frightening the way election was coming. Despite the avalanche of adverts by the PDP in the media, the people just remained resolute on change.
Even the polls conducted by Jonathan’s aides, he lost; on-line polls, he lost. Even the one conducted in Jonathan’s catchment areas, he lost as well. Remember, Jonathan has people who have more access and exposed to the internet. You can imagine if they had allowed the election to go on. I asked a question earlier, if he was going to win the election, would he have postponed it? So, they wanted to halt the momentum and see whether they can have some breathing space to change the situation. And now, after the postponement, they kept pounding Buhari with those offensive adverts.
Again, their calculation was that the opposition will run out of funds for campaign and because they have their hands on many resources, they can go any length to continue the campaign against Buhari. I tell you, what the PDP had spent on advert alone can build a whole city that can house 5000 residents. You are in the media and you know what I’m talking about. They have virtually closed down the media with their adverts. Yet, the opposition has the heart of the people. This election is not going to be fought and won by money. It’s all about repairing the obvious damage you have done to the heart of the people. They see blood and human body parts on the road every day, across the country, because of their ineptitude and incompetence.
Again, I look at the adverts, associating Buhari with the 2011 violence, calling him a blood sucker, showing all the damage of the post 2011 election and saying that Buhari called for the violence, showing bodies on the street to arouse our sensibilities and instill fear in us. I ask a very simple question, you are President and Commander-in-chief, completely in charge of security in the country, and I wonder that he has all these evidence since that time, why has no single agency invited Buhari to make a statement? Why did you not make complain to the International Criminal Court, ICC for post election violence, like it happened in Kenya and other parts of Africa?
No single complaint was made by the government? No police officer invited Buhari to make a statement in respect of that. What is the implication of that? You either have a commander in chief who is economical with the truth or who has no time to check those who caused the post election violence. You had the information that somebody destroyed life and property and you are now crying to Nigerians, saying, ‘see what they have done’ and you are Commander-in-Chief. This is not true and it is most unfortunate.
What is going on is similar to what happened in the time of Abacha as Bola Ige talked about ‘the five fingers of a leprous hand’. When all the parties then were calling for adoption of Abacha as the only one fit for the job and he kept quite as if he didn’t know what was happening. Even you as Journalists you must be kidding yourselves if you say Jonathan is completely unaware of what is going on.
With this your submission, do you think Jega has all it takes to conduct free and fair election?
Jega is completely hamstrung. There is no way the INEC chairman can begin to conduct election under this circumstance of security challenges. He cannot start carrying ballot boxes here and there without security. It is a reality that he cannot conduct the election without the support of security agents. It is not possible. The way they are going, they may even force circumstance on him to resign. They will give him a situation that is impracticable for him to go on and that is where Nigerians will come in. My prayer is for it not to degenerate to that level. When most of us were inhaling teargas, fighting for democracy, these individuals were teaching in classrooms. Jonathan was associated with one single protest. He was not in any human rights or civil society group anywhere anytime. So, they don’t know the value of what we have and yet, they are the ultimate beneficiaries of it. I feel bad when I see people abuse icons like Soyinka, even Obasanjo was in jail for this democracy. He was in prison for three and half years and he sweated for it. It was this and other things that created international awareness of what was happening in Nigeria. I want to beg the President that what he is enjoying now, people sweated for it; so, he should not destroy it. If he loses election, he should go honourably. Sycophants around him should also realise that this is about our country and not about Jonathan.
Recently, the Chief Justice of Nigeria warned Judges against being compromised by politicians, we have heard of similar warning in the past, how is this going to influence fair dispensation of justice?
It is only a matter of hope and prayer because the judiciary has had bags of disappointments and sometime successes. In some cases, the Judiciary restored hope in our democracy and in some cases, they let the people down. It remains the last hope of the common man and for democracy. It is only our prayer because it is a fact that there is corruption in the judiciary. The level of rot may be a subject of debate depending on what level of information you have. The institution that is saddle with the responsibility of checks and balances should be well oiled because human nature is prone to do bad things. When we go out everyday, some people could wish they could get somethings that are not theirs. It is the consequence of going to get those things illegally that keeps you back. That also applies to the Judiciary. People should also know that the Judges are from this environment and all the issues in the society are also affecting them and their judgment. So, we must always pray that they don’t allow these variables to becloud their judgment. At times, it may not be financial gratification; at times, family ties and consanguinity could affect judgment because they are members of the society. They have childhood friends, and they cannot be closed to the entire world.
Do you think the EFCC and the other anti-graft agencies have the bite to clampdown on corrupt politicians?
They are hampered by a lot of factors. I have seen a lot of sincerity and hard work in EFCC team. I have worked with them. I have seen patriotism among some of the leaders of these institutions. The problem is that they are hampered by lack of facility to work. They can’t work beyound what is made available. Imagine, one agency trying to police 774 local governments.
But he EFCC had more bite during the Ribadu era!
No! It was the creation of the media. The only thing that happened during Ribadu’s time was that there was an understanding with the courts not to grant bail to those who were charged.
That was all the difference. And because people like Tafa Balogun were not granted bail, Lucky Igbinedion, Alameighsieha entered into plea bargain. Thereafter, some of the second generation governors like Orji Uzor Kalu, Ladoja Timipre Silva, Gbenga Daniel were charged but all of these people as they were entering court they were being granted bail. And that was it. There was the spectacle of the Black Maria. That was the Ribadu style. It was the judiciary that supported that process at that time. But Yar’Adua came with the mantra of rule of law. But they were charged, the crux of the matter was that the intention was not to kick you but to charge you. No single case under Ribadu was tried. All of them could not go to trial. Probably because of the torture of the prison, they entered plea bargain. None of them went to trial. So, all the hype about Ribadu was a media creation. I am talking as an insider. The only reason was that people were imprisoned and it was like- ‘look, what do you want? Return some of my property and go away.’ In fact most of those Plea Bargains were crazy. They took some of the property from them and they walked away; there was nothing like 10 years imprisonment or anything near it.
Some people will argue that the same method should have been applied
I agree, but the judiciary has to co-operate. Don’t forget that the same media kept saying, you cannot keep people in prison without trial since they are presumed innocent until found guilty by the court.
This is the problem we are facing in the country, we have a disease but we don’t want to go in for surgery. We have a cancer that requires surgical operation and yet you don’t want to go in for surgery. As Nigerians, what do you want?
The President has consistently said that successive governments did not equip the Military and that was why the fight against insurgents was difficult; again with the fact that this Boko Haram did not start with Jonathan; what should he have done?
This is a very weak argument. We have had so many uprisings, like the Maitasine uprising. The government of the day crushed them and nipped the uprising in the bud. Boko Haram should have been crushed before they became an octopus. Before, they were not occupying territories. They were only running to their enclaves and hide-outs. The situation is bad now.
Recently, Obasanjo and Jonathan have been at war. Does it not bother you that an elder statesman was so infuriated that he tore his party membership card in the public?
Nigerians should be bothered more about the rot in the ruling party and the state of the nation rather than to worry about Obasanjo’s action. It is an action of an elder
statesman who is deeply troubled. If you remember what I wrote in January, that Jonathan will be remembered as President who destroyed the PDP and almost destroyed Nigeria. Is not worrying that the number one and number two men of the last administration (Obasanjo and Atiku) have been driven out of the ruling party? Just think deeply about it. How did it come to that point?
Some body who was godfather and leader of a party? Something is wrong. These are people who have shown their open frustration, not just left, but openly driven out of the party. I remember, it got to a point Atiku could not be called to his own ward meeting. The PDP should not use their intrigues and power play to destroy Nigeria as a whole. So, who is to blame if not Jonathan because as the President, he is the leader of the party and the whole nation.
Anywhere in the world, the security of lives and property is number one for any government. But it appears that Jonathan, in the last four years, had prioritized the privileges of the office rather than the responsibilities of the office.
He and his wife are only interested in being the President and the first lady and neglected the things that come along with them.
Eventually, he auctioned most of his powers out to Okonjo-Iweala. . Okonjo-Iweala just reports to him and he says carry on. Obasanjo then would listen to every minister and treat every file up till 2am.
Jonathan contracted out the economy to Okonjo-Iweala and contracted the security to the army, and some of the waterways to some private individuals. It should not be like that. Without going through scrutiny and every economic detail, every financial transaction, he leaves them in the hands of others. Even politics, at times, the wife hijacked it from him and began to make decisions. I am sure you know what is happening in PDP. I am not the one saying it and you know they have more information than I seem to have. In fact see most of the editorial around the world, the New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, all of them came to one conclusion on the two difficult choices Nigeria will make in the elections. Soyinka put it well by saying that one is troubled by his past and the other troubled by his presence. All of them came to a conclusion that let us have a strong hand rather than a weak hand. No amount of advert will change that path.
Again, as the dynamics of the society change, the issues that guide campaign must change. You cannot be campaigning about 1984 issues now. They are missing the point. Human rights are not the issue now.
The issues are Boko Haram, corruption and the economy and you are campaigning about issues that are not current. There is no decree 2, there is no law that says you can detain without trial; when we have a court without outer clauses, chapter four that is fully alive, a National Assembly that is fully alive, a burgeoning private press with internet, facebook, twitter will you now tell me that Buhari will come and shut down all of you? .
The peace accord entered into by both parties recently appeared dead on arrival, why is it not working?
It is cosmetic. First of all, it was not a legal document.
You cannot make people sign an agreement not to commit a crime. It is the law that compels you not to commit a crime. You cannot also say you signed agreement to keep within the bounds of the law. By law, you have to keep within the bounds of the law. It was meant to satisfy international community and after that, our local politics comes lives.
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