From the First Republic, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN) has been an active participant in Nigerian politics. A former Attorney-General and Justice Minister, he strongly believes that President Goodluck Jonathan will be re-elected in 2015. The First Republic Federal Minister of Education and member, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) advises former Head of State, Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), to quit politics because if he contests for the presidency 10 times, like he did in 2003, 2007 and 2011, he can never be president. Akinjide, in this interview with AYODELE OJO and TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, also said Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State should forget his return to the Agodi GovernmentHouse, Ibadan. Excerpts:
As an active participant in all the republics, how would you assess the state of the nation?
Excellent. In my view, there is nothing to worry about. As long as we obey the wordings of the constitution, we have nothing to worry about.
There are threats and counter-threats about President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election and the 2015 elections. How do you feel about the development?
In my view, what decides an election is the result. Politicians must talk politics; whether they are from the South or North or from the East or West. Nobody should worry about that. They say even worse things in France, Germany, England, USA and South Africa. So, I don’t see why people are worried about that. In politics, you must jaw-jaw, not war-war; no violence, no killings. As long as you obey the law, we have nothing to worry about.
As a leader in the PDP, do you see your party winning South-West in the 2015 elections?
We will. We will follow the law, the Electoral Act, the electoral rule and the PDP will win. I don’t think anybody should worry about the party controlling the states in the South-West or not controlling it. I don’t want to go into details of that but those who perpetrated atrocities in past elections; they have suffered for it and they would continue to suffer for it. I don’t want to comment on that. Once the electoral tribunal makes pronouncement and it is final, whether it is right or wrong, we have to obey it. But let us wait for the result of the next election and see who is going to win and see who is going to lose.
With the All Progressives Congress in firm control of five of the six states in the South- West, do you see President Jonathan winning the 2015 election in the zone?
There was a time Chief Obafemi Awolowo was controlling the whole South-West and when we did the federal election in 1954/55, the NCNC won; Awolowo’s party was defeated. Yet Awolowo’s party was in control of the Western Region at that time. That was when Chief Kola Balogun became a Federal Minister, Adegoke Adelabu became Federal Minister and other people from South-West became Federal Ministers. There is no permanency in politics. A party in power today may not be the party in power tomorrow. It is not a permanent fixture. In England, the Labour Party had been in power and they are now in opposition. There had been time when the Conservative had been in power and the Labour came in. The same thing happened in Germany, France and USA. So, I don’t see why people should be unnecessarily nervous about 2015. The party in power today may be in opposition tomorrow.
You have not answered the question: will Jonathan be able to win in South-West come 2015?
I am 100 per cent sure that once the election is conducted in accordance with the Electoral Act, Jonathan will win; he will become President again. I have no doubt about that. In 2011, when he won the election, how many states did PDP control in the South-West? And his win was total and the same thing is going to happen in the next election. The crisis in the PDP is going to be settled and you will see how things will emerge. We have now got an excellent man as national chairman of the party, Adamu Muazu; who believes in unity, democratic norms and that would change the equation of politics in the South-West and in Nigeria as a whole. But people felt the mutual alliance between Jonathan and Bola Tinubu helped the president in the 2011 election. I don’t accept that analysis. Jonathan won because people voted for him and he will win again because people will vote for him. It is as simple as that. I have no doubt that PDP will come to power in South-West. Do you foresee Governor Ajimobi returning to office in 2015? No. I don’t see him coming back. I see the PDP winning the election. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has threatened to withdraw from PDP activities if Buruji Kashamu remains the party leader in South-West.
Do you feel comfortable with Kashamu being the party’s zonal leader?
In the first place, former President Obasanjo has not withdrawn from PDP. If you have a complaint, it is your duty to complain to leaders of the party or to the chairman of the party and that is what he (Obasanjo) has done. Isn’t that better than stoning yourself or fighting each other? It is all politics. It has come and it will go away. For me, I don’t see him leading the party in the South-West. A magazine has published the details of his case (drug) in America, which he denied. He said he had no case in America. The PDP believes in democratic norms; we obey the rule of law and anything contrary to law, we will not go over it. I don’t see him ruling us in the South-West. Kashamu ruling us would be a disaster. He (Kashamu) said many of the leaders that are opposing him are no longer relevant in the politics of South-West….
What relevance has he got himself? I want anybody to tell me. I don’t even know him. I have never seen him before. He should be very careful the way he makes statement. And that is perhaps why he had problem in America and has been exposed by the American authorities. I don’t think you should attach much importance to his statement. He should be very careful.
Recently, Jonathan and Obasanjo were engaged in public spat; is there any process in place to reconcile the duo?
I don’t see any altercation. I saw exchange of letters. It is normal in politics that you exchange words either in writing or by words of mouth. Which political party does not do that? Even the party in government in the South-West does the same thing. In the North, they do the same thing. In South-South, they do the same thing. It is normal in politics; just don’t fight each other, only exchange words. As long as you do that, there is no problem. Writing letters is healthy but stoning yourself or fighting is not healthy. If people exchange letters, that is normal in politics. Don’t forget that we inherited this system, we did not create them. It was brought by the British, Americans and the Europeans generally and we are doing it here the way they do it there. So, why should anyone get worried, except somebody who is suffering from political ignorance.
Do you think some of the issues raised by Obasanjo are really germane or out of place?
It all depends on, one; your politics. Secondly, how you look at it and thirdly, where you are going. The former President said corruption has grown in Jonathan administration. He also talked about clannish issue; that the Ijaws have taken over the government and the rest.
Are these issues real or just imaginary?
There is no politics in Nigeria that is controlled by a particular group. The Presidency has the whole constituency as his electoral base. Therefore, to be elected, you need people from Sokoto, Oyo, Ijaw, North- East, North Central and the Igbo to support you. Many people making statement are making them out of sheer ignorance and political incompetence. If I may say so. There is nothing happening that has worried me at all. So, you feel there is no need to reconcile the two?
What is the meaning of reconciliation when you exchange words in the papers, on television or radio?
That is normal. The Germans, British, Americans and Japanese do the same thing. This politics we are doing is not in our history; we inherited it from the British, Americans, Japanese and other people. So, why should anybody blame us? The North is angling for power shift in 2015.
Do you support power shift?
There is nothing wrong about that, even you asking to be President of Nigeria. It is normal. There is nothing wrong even for people from Benue or Anambra to say that they want to be President. It is normal to say such things. I have no problem about that at all. So, you don’t have any problem with power shift in 2015 to the North? Shift to where? I am supporting Jonathan 100 per cent to contest election again, win and remain President.
Why are you supporting Jonathan?
One, his performance. Two, the people of his area have seen something they have never seen before in the history of the country. We have had Yoruba as President, Northerners as Presidents and we had Igbo as Governor-General of this country. So, if we have an Ijaw occupying the same place, I don’t see anything wrong in that.
But some critics like the APC feel there is nothing on ground to show that the President has done well.
That is arrant nonsense. Look at what he has done about power. Look at what he is trying to do about the aviation industry. Look at the roads he is doing; the expressway he is doing between Ibadan and Lagos, in the North and in the East. If you inherited any problem of 10-15 years, there is no way you can solve them within a short time, it takes time. How do you see the defection of PDP governors and lawmakers to APC and what is the implication of the move? This is just internal politics and it is going to be corrected before long. You just watch out. The constitution is quite clear on that. If you contest election on the platform of a political party and you want to leave and go to another political party, you have to resign and contest again. If you don’t do that, then you are doing something that is wrong and I don’t see that happening. I believe that the PDP will put its house in order and there is no question of defection being total or final.
Do you see a Northern candidacy defeating Jonathan in 2015?
The politics of Nigeria has moved away from North and South or East and West. Anybody who is reading Nigerian politics in that context must be very ignorant. We now have 36 states. Before, we had three regions, then 12 states, then 19 states. How can you talk of North and South in that context? It is not possible. The politics of North and South has changed forever. In the event former head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, emerges as APC presidential candidate, do you see him defeating President Jonathan in 2015? If Buhari stands for any election 10 times, he will lose.
He hasn’t got the electoral advantage to win an election. He has done a lot of things in the past, which shows that he hasn’t got democratic norms. For instance, the government of Lagos State was to do the railway system and we know what he did about it. Nigeria has one of the worst railway systems in Africa today. Lagos State was going to do water system; he (Buhari) cancelled it. He even cancelled the railway system (metroline) in Lagos State. The railway system was approved by Shehu Shagari and the agreement was vetted by me as the Attorney-General and Lagos State deposited $50 million to a French company, which they forfeited and then they were asked to pay damages again in arbitration. Buhari was told that and he didn’t care. His belief was that South would be better developed than the North. Anybody who thinks like that is not worthy of being President of this country. That is one of the reasons he has no political advantage for any political party. We all know what he did about human rights abuses. He imprisoned many political leaders. Is that why he has contested in the last three presidential elections and lost? Let him contest again. If he does again, I don’t see him winning and I mean it. But Buhari fought corruption. There is nobody in this country who has not fought corruption, one way or the other. But if you remember when he became Head of State, he was from the North, the Vice President was also from the North (Kwara) and the Secretary to the Federal Government was also from the North, as if South did not exist at that time. That is a serious wrong political arithmetic. People will not forget that and I mean it. But when he left power through a military coup against him, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida came to power and he took as Number Two people from Abia and later Edo State. So, we had a fair balance at that time. If you are doing Nigerian politics, you must have a fair balance. Anybody that made that mistake again as Buhari did, he will lose election.
So, you don’t see him winning election even though he contests 10 times?
I have repeated that several times. The mathematics of Nigerian politics is against him and I don’t see any electoral advantage that he might have. Then, who in the APC do you think poses a serious threat to Jonathan’s re-election? Nobody. I say that categorically and seriously, there is nobody. The dominance of Jonathan now is total and as time goes on, we will see that he will emerge as the dominant person to win the presidential election.
How do you feel and do you have any regrets in politics?
I have never regretted being in politics. I started being in politics when I was a law student in England. So, in practice, and in theory I learnt it in England. I used to go to the House of Commons and House of Lords to see how they did it and when I came back to Nigeria at the age of 24, I went straight into politics and three years after that, I was a Member of the Parliament in my 20s. You spent some months in prison after the First Republic coup… All politicians virtually were detained then and I was one of those politicians detained.
How do you feel about your prison experience? Delightful. That was the First Republic when there was an unnecessary military coup and a Prime Minister was killed; a Minister of Finance killed and some Premiers lost their lives. But after that, things were corrected and those of us who were thrown out of power came back to power again. It was after that that I became the Attorney-General again. So, the democratic norms remain intact and correct. And those who did that coup at that time had been proved to be wrong. Today, Tinubu is more or less seen as the leader of Yoruba. I don’t accept that. Nobody has elected anybody as leader of Yoruba. People have been rising that they are this and that. They may be leader of their party, but leader of Yoruba, no way. Is he not qualified to be leader of Yoruba? I can’t comment on that. Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, has said he can’t guarantee perfect elections in 2015. What is your take on this? If an election is perfect, there would be no election petitions in Electoral Act. There have been election petitions in USA, England, France and Germany. It is normal; that is part of democratic norms so that where there is mistake, it can easily be corrected. I don’t have any problem with what they are doing and I have no problem with what we are doing here. It is normal. Nigeria is 100 years. Some feel the country should disintegrate while others believe we stay together. What do you feel? The marriage of 1910 and the other marriage of 1914 and the independence we had in 1960 are total. I have strong reasons to believe that that marriage will remain forever. We are now one family; marrying each other, being educated together, and I don’t see such things breaking.