Senate Committee Vice-Chairman on Nigeria Air Force and Chairman of Rosabel Leo-Burnett Limited, one of Nigeria’s topmost advertising agencies, Senator Akinola Odunsi spoke with Gboyega Akinsanmi, on the internal crisis tearing apart the Ogun State chapter of the All Progressives Congress. Excerpts:
Due to the crisis in the Ogun State chapter of All Progressives Congress, is it true that the faction you belong is ready to register its political party?
One thing I know for sure is that there is a rift within our party in Ogun State. It is not only in my state, but all over the country. The rift arose from the various congresses that were organised. Some party guidelines were given. In Ogun, for instance, many of us who believe in the supremacy of the party followed the party guidelines to a fault. In the wisdom of the party’s national secretariat, the other group that did not follow the guideline was recognised.
A reconciliation committee chaired by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was set up to the address crisis. How far has the committee gone?
I do not know how to describe the committee. But I know the committee met with my colleagues. So far, I have not seen any evidence of a shift from the status quo. I am not in a position to judge the committee. Whether the committee will achieve much or not, I am not in a position judge them. Like I said, the committee met some of us and heard from us. Since them, nothing has changed. Incidentally, the day the committee met with my group. I did not meet the reconciliation committee in person. I am not in position to assess their sincerity or otherwise.
Do you hope the committee will be able to resolve the crisis?
At what time will it be resolved? When will the committee resolve the crisis? I do not know really. From what I heard after meeting my colleagues, the committee promised to get back to us in two weeks. But we have not heard anything about it. We have made our position very clear. We simply seek fairness and justice. Where there is no fairness, there can be no justice.
I do not understand why the party set the guidelines and will not duly follow it. Why do we waste time setting guidelines? Why will a party set guidelines and not respect it? When the guidelines were released, it was not as if the guidelines were for some people. Some people were excused from following the guidelines. For me, I do not know how to describe a party that set guideline and cannot insist on following the guideline.
Why did the intervention of prominent people like the Alake of Egba, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo and the Awujale, Oba Sikiru Adetona fail to yield?
When the royal fathers spoke with those of us in the National Assembly, we gave them due respect as our fathers and leaders. Everything they asked us to do we did. Due to their intervention, we resolved to do exactly what they wanted us to do. The royal fathers demanded that the party membership registration should be peaceful in the state. I went to my local government. Even when I saw that the registration officers that were deployed did not follow what we agreed on, I told my people that they should let the sleeping lie so that we could have a peaceful registration exercise. So, we did exactly what we promised Awujale that we would do.
When it came to congresses as well, we determined we would turn our state to a theatre of war. After the ward congress, it was apparent that the other group was not on the ground and they all saw it. But we realised that at this stage, we could no longer insist on doing congresses together. In any case, the basis for follow-up congress was that those who would take part in ward congresses must buy teller; pay at the appropriate quarters; come to the venues and queue on the field to elect their officials.
We conducted the congresses at the venue the party’s national secretariat allocated to us. It was the same venue that all of us went. But we did not see them. They went home and wrote result on their own. We petitioned the national secretariat after the local government congresses. The committee that was set up to listen to our appeal was sitting the day some hoodlums broke into the venue and scattered everywhere. Everybody had to run for their lives. But we believe we had a case.
We petitioned the national secretariat and party leaders again. But the committee that investigated the issues of the ward congresses wrote a doctored report, which was adopted at last. So, those without tellers were given the chapter's executive council from ward to state level. So, what are we struggling for? Alake and Awujale really tried.
Apart from the fact that we met them at Ijebu Ode, the royal fathers invited us again to another meeting. We first met in the palace of Alake and eventually drove to Governor’s House to see the governor. We met face to face with Governor Amosun. We stated our case and they urged to resolve our differences. But when we got to the congresses, we discovered they did not keep to the terms.
With the conduct of Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, do you see INEC conducting free and fair elections in 2015?
I believe the Independent National Electoral Commissioner (INEC) under Prof. Attahiru Jega is a leadership of purpose with some level of seriousness. We must give some kudos to the leadership of INEC. Nobody, so far, has come out to challenge him as to his intention, manner and sincerity of purpose. If there is complaint at all, it has been about Resident Electoral Commissioners. To that extent, I think Jega should be congratulated for what he has done so far in the conduct of elections. That is not to say that all the elections he conducted so far were perfect.
Nobody is perfect. Nobody has been able to conduct elections that are 100 per cent free and fair. But I think Jega has made very serious and determined efforts to ensure that elections conducted are getting closer to what we want. Having said, I think it can only get better. I believe Jega himself has been learning from diverse mistakes and issues arising from the elections he has conducted. I can specifically mention the elections in Edo, Ekiti and Osun. Perhaps because those elections are isolated, we are not able to actually put it on the scale of general election where the resources of INEC and security apparatus will be fully stretched.
Before and during the elections, both Ekiti and Osun were heavily militarised and it raised concerns in the National Assembly on the constitutional use of soldiers for elections. Is the Senate doing anything about it?
When you are talking of security apparatus in this country, the Nigeria Police cannot alone provide the kind of security we need for an election. How many officers do we even have in the Nigeria Police? The Nigeria Police have about 350,000 officers in the ranks and files. If in the conduct of national elections certain security forces are deployed, we should not see that as militarisation. We should not see in that context, except for those with ulterior motive. We know the police cannot provide adequate security during national elections. When you say the states are militarised, is there any place that the military officers do anything other than keep a watch on the environment?
I was not in Osun. So, I cannot in all good conscience affirm the issue of some secluded masked security outfits around the state. But at the end of the day, what did we get? We had a free, transparent and flawless election procedure. Yes, we do not want elections to be militarised. But we all know we do not have personnel in the Nigeria Police to provide security during elections.
What exactly do you mean by except people with ulterior motive, the police alone cannot provide adequate security in a national election?
In all elections, all the political parties struggle to outdo themselves in the process of rigging or doing things in an unorthodox way. So, if you do the right thing, you should not do anything that will be against the rules. What is their worry? They need to educate their people and mobilise them to ignore the military officers or whoever. They need to come out and cast their votes on the election day. That is what every party should do.
In other federal spheres, the state electoral commission conducts all elections within a federating unit. At this instance, is it proper for the INEC to conduct any election within a state?
Except in Nasarawa State, show me one state where a governor in power conducts an election and any other party wins. It happened in Nasarawa because we have a polished civilised man at the helms of affairs. That tells why the attempt to impeach him failed. Governor Tanko Al-Makura is a technocrat. He is a serious person. So, that is an exception that I provided to the tradition.
Show me other states in the country when an election was conducted by the state electoral commission and opposition parties had a way out. As far as I am concerned, those state electoral commissions write their results as to what the governor in power wants them to write. In my own states, the election conducted leaves so much to be desired for me.
With rising insurgency in the North-east, do you see it as a threat to the 2015 general election?
Well, it is a threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria, even before 2015. The way things have gone in the North-east leaves a lot to be desired. The security in the North deserves very serious attention from the federal government. If you go to the genesis of it all, I think you can see it all started in the form of political struggle. This was because there were so many unemployed youths who were waiting to be used in the run-up to 2011 elections. After 2011, they did not have jobs to do. But they have something to do. The issue of religion became a subject. Before we know what was happening, it went beyond unemployment. It went beyond politics. It blew beyond religion. It has been a scourge threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria.
Does it mean you subscribe to a report allegedly by the US National Intelligence Council that Nigeria could disintegrate in 2015?
I do not subscribe to the report. But there is no smoke without fire. How does the Boko Haram get its weapons? How have they been able to survive for so long without being fished out, even in spite of the involvement of the world powers? I am not too sure of the genuineness of those who are expected to assist Nigeria.
And all these current issues formed the prediction of the US National Intelligence Council. It is like we are walking to that position and they are watching us drift to the direction that they have predicted. We have to be very careful. We have to be extremely careful to avoid grave threat to our corporate existence.