A former senator, minister of works and the Pro-chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Adeseye Ogunlewe, in this interview with ALLWELL OKPI, speaks on how politicians manipulate electoral processes, the solution to electoral fraud and other sundry matters
At a recent event of the Peoples Democratic Party, you talked about the possibility of PDP winning Lagos State in 2015. But why do you think PDP has been unsuccessful in Lagos since 1999?
It’s the leadership, particularly the President. If any President is interested in winning election in a state, he must have a strategic plan. He must sit down with the people, articulate the plans, weigh the options and see the likelihood of winning the election. Elections are not won by wishes; you must plan. We have been losing because of the lack of strategic planning; and the lack of commitment from the leadership of the party and the Presidency. Unless we are lucky to have a President that is willing to win elections, we will not win. Where the leadership is unconcerned, it is very difficult.
Are you saying former President Olusegun Obasanjo was not interested in winning Lagos?
He had the intention, but he could not articulate the strategy for winning.
You became a senator in 1999 on the platform of Alliance for Democracy and later defected to the Peoples Democratic Party. Why that move, considering that AD was considered the South-West party?
There was in-fighting in AD at that time. The then governor of Lagos State (Bola Tinubu) had the intention of wrestling the party from its leadership. He had the intention of demystifying Afenifere as a socio-political interest group and he succeeded. Nobody was able to see the possible outcome of the disintegration of AD. The leaders of Afenifere and AD were working with him (Tinubu) thinking he was genuine, but he was undermining them. And there was no way people like us could stay in that kind of environment. Now those leaders of AD, have now burnt their fingers. Tinubu dumped AD, demystified Afenifere and took over the leadership of South-West from them. And at least, one or two of them are still alive. They subsumed their authority to the man that they helped to uplift, but they didn’t see the argument at that time, that the person they were propping up will come back and eat them.
Do you now believe that the leadership of the South-West is in the hands of Tinubu?
There is no doubt about that. The leadership of the South-West is now in the hands of Tinubu. He wrestled Afenifere’s interest, power, and struggle. Whatever Afenifere stood for, he has taken it away from them. Unfortunately, they now have to listen to him. They didn’t understand that intention at that time. Don’t perpetrate injustice, it will come to you. That is what they are reaping now. They shouldn’t complain at all.
At that time, did you or any other person raise the alarm that Tinubu was going to betray Afenifere and the leadership of AD?
In fairness to them, they did not know. I’ll give it to them that they never expected the level of backsliding and backstabbing they received from Tinubu. God has a way of balancing things. Once there is injustice, God has a way of intervening.
Since Tinubu took over, how have Yoruba people fared in Nigeria’s political scene?
He has negotiated. The man is a businessman. He is not there in the interest of Yoruba people. For instance, the Yoruba people were assigned the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but because of his own interest, Tinubu gave it to the Sokoto Caliphate; to Aminu Tambuwal. As a result of this, if you look at the top 10 positions in Nigeria, there is no single Yoruba man there. So, is that the kind of person that we should be referring to as the leader in the South-West? It’s unfortunate, but that is what we have now.
Are you then saying that Tinubu is not following the path Obafemi Awolowo in terms of defending the interest of Yoruba people?
He has no capacity to do so. His capacity is limited to business not Yoruba interest because he has no heritage to prove that he is that kind of person. Tinubu is not in Awolowo’s mould in whatever description.
The Action Congress of Nigeria was successful in the South-West, winning five out six states. Now, having joined forces with other political parties to form All Progressives Congress, do you see them maintaining that success?
ACN has transformed already to APC and they are formidable. That is a fact. It is good for the system where you have two formidable parties. The competition will be merrier; people will pick which party to support depending on their manifesto, their programmes, and their policies. These are the things that the South-West people look at. They don’t necessarily look at the name of the political party. It is what you want to give that will attract them. It is now for the two parties, PDP and APC, to articulate what is of interest to the South-West and sell it to them.
Don’t you think this issue of Yoruba marginalisation is likely to affect the chances of PDP in 2015?
The issue will come to the fore. It will be part of the issues that will be at the front burner during campaigns. Then, the unprogressive manner in which APC has managed the education system in the South-West will also be an issue. They say they are progressives, the school fees paid in their state university is the highest in the country. In Lagos State University, the average school fee is N300,000. I don’t think that is Awolowo’s style. That is negative. The bane of the South-West is education; and you now tax and commercialise education. Is it affordable; is it in the interest of the South-West people? Think of how many Yoruba people have dropped out of school because of high fees. They have commercialised education and that is not what Awolowo was preaching. PDP and APC will debate on these issues and let us see which party the people will pick.
So, PDP will exploit this when campaigning for 2015.
Yes. In federal universities, students pay N14, 000 as school fees. In APC states they pay N300,000. So, the students and their parents should choose.
When you dumped AD for PDP, you lost your bid for a second term at the Senate, what really happened?
No. There is nothing like dominance in elections. Winning election in Nigeria is based on your capacity to rig. The type of election we hold in Nigeria is primitive. And unless we upgrade our electoral process and make it computerised, there is no way we can have a credible election. There is no election in Nigeria that is credible. No, no, we are too far from that. There is no single election in Nigeria that is not rigged.
But some elections have been praised as reasonably free, fair and credible.
That is to the limit of the onlooker. There is difference between the participants and the onlookers.
Are you saying all that Prof. Attahiru Jega has done has not stopped rigging.
Jega is not a politician. He is an honest person. But the politicians know what they want. Jega can do all he can but it is left for the politicians to manipulate and they manipulate easily. There is no politician that does not manipulate. They will make noise, but we know ourselves. If you cannot manipulate, you are not a politician. In Nigeria, there are master riggers, but the master riggers make the most noise when it doesn’t suit them.
That means if we do not fully computerise the electoral processes, politician will rig 2015.
Yes. They will write the result before the election and nothing will happen. They write results before elections in this country. The crux of the matter is that voters cannot be identified. In so many other countries, citizens of the country are known through security numbers. So it is not you voter’s card alone that enables you to vote, it is your national identification that is biometrically composed that enables you to vote.
Obasanjo appointed you as Minister of Works in July 2003, and in March 2006, he sacked you. What went wrong?
It was all political, but the person that appointed you can remove you at any time. It is not a big deal. The position of a minister is not in perpetuity, it is not a chieftaincy title.
Are you are saying there was no issue between you and Obasanjo?
No. He even gave me a letter of commendation, which is good.
During your tenure as works minister, you gave out your phone number asking people to call you if they saw potholes on federal roads. What happened then; how many calls did you receive?
Yes, my name and number was on the Internet. Everybody could call me. They called me from South Korea; from British Parliament, I discussed with them. I received calls from all over the world. Initially, they thought it was not real, that a minister will put his number on the Internet. I did so, it wasn’t a big deal. Once you are a public officer, people should be able to contact you. But that is not what is happening now. To even see a councillor is difficult. You cannot phone a governor and he will pick his phone. He will be too busy. It is only during election that the governor wants to see you.
How many calls did you receive from people reporting locations of potholes?
I received many. Once people saw a pothole anywhere in the country, they called me and I always picked up the phone. And the potholes were fixed almost immediately because I had contacts with the controllers of works and they were working very efficiently.
So, you are saying federal roads were in good shape when you were the works minister?
It was a gradual development. I developed it to a stage where we imported asphalt plants, many road equipment. Each zone had its own and we had seven zones. We also partnered Nigeria Society of Engineers, so that Nigerians would start to construct roads. Unless we get to that, we cannot make progress. We should stop relying on Lebanese and Chinese to construct our roads. It is an insult. We have by far more competent Nigerians that can build better roads; better bridges. But the Federal Government makes more money by giving the contracts to these Indians, Lebanese and Chinese. These foreigners give those in government money in foreign exchange to build houses and take care of their children; that is why they will not patronise Nigerian engineers. We can never develop the way we are going we are just wasting time. There is no country that developed with the model we are using now. We are just enslaving our people and that why there is poverty, insecurity, and more people are out of school. There is nobody that can develop this country more than our engineers, but now they are utilised only by 10 per cent, so how we develop?
Not too long ago, the Senate probed contracts awarded for construction of roads over a period of time, and the senators recommended that past ministers of works, including you, should be prosecuted. Can you tell us what came out of that?
They didn’t need to go to that level because the minister is not the account officer of the ministry. The Permanent Secretary is the accounting officer. He is the person that signs cheques, ministers don’t sign cheques. Ministers cannot even prepare completion certificates for payment.
But were you summoned?
I was. But what will they say? I told them that government work is not the same as that of the National Assembly. Government work is bureaucracy and in bureaucracy responsibilities are assigned. From the site engineer to the zonal engineer, to the director of works and then to the permanent secretary to the Federal Executive Council to the Tenders Board to the Ministry of Finance that pays. They don’t give the money to the minister. How can you have access to the money? It is myopic thinking, it doesn’t work that way. It’s a bureaucracy. One person doesn’t steal money in a bureaucracy.
How do you feel knowing that the people who killed Funsho Williams have not been found?
I won’t agree with you. It is a complex thing. Let us leave it like that. Ghosts cannot kill, somebody benefitted from it, but don’t worry, God is in control. God does not like injustice. Whoever planned it and executed it, will not go unpunished. It was a master plan. It was not an ordinary thing.
You were arrested then in connection with that murder, because you were his political rival…
You know I’m not capable of such level of sophistication. That was a sophisticated approach to murder and it is far beyond one single person.
The national dialogue committee will soon be done with its work. Some are in support while others, including APC, have questioned the motive and the timing. What do you think?
The concept is inevitable, we have to talk. Talking about timing, it doesn’t have to end in 2015. We can keep on talking. It doesn’t matter what government is there. APC is agitating because it appears they have upper hand and they don’t want to be disturbed in the movement towards possible victory. It is imaginary. Nigeria is a continuum. They shouldn’t be afraid. There are a lot of things we need to talk about.
You said APC thinks it has the upper hand. Isn’t that because of the in-fighting in the PDP?
The in-fighting in PDP is the manipulation of APC. And it is all politics. If I were those governors, I will not listen to the opposition. How can you leave your father’s house to become a tenant in another political party? It is not right. I pity them, because the people they are going to meet in APC are clever people. There is no governor that does not know the danger in APC because they are the same people. It is not in the interest of the governors to join APC. They are family members in PDP but they will be strangers in APC. They are just moving from frying pan to fire. Don’t trust those APC people; if they attract you to their party, you suffer.
But they wanted the National Chairman of PDP, Bamanga Tukur, removed, saying he had been high-handed. Don’t you think they had a point?
Tukur is President Goodluck Jonathan’s strongest supporter and that is the person they want him to remove, so that they can put their own person that will be against Jonathan. It can’t work. They underrate the intelligence of Mr. President. It is a non-issue. They shouldn’t have even gone there. The President has no power to remove the national chairman of the party because the national chairman was elected at a national convention. He can only be removed at another national convention.
Don’t you think Tukur went too far by suspending Kawu Baraje, Olagunsoye Oyinola and other?
He should have expelled them. How can you say you are New PDP and you are still in PDP? It’s indiscipline. Which party can take that? They should have been expelled the next day. With or without them, Jonathan will win in 2015.
Do you think so?
He will win very easily. Most of the seven governors are second-term governors, they are not contesting again and some of them are not in the position to install the next governor in their state. Soon, their supporters will be in disarray.
But some of them are interested in the Presidency.
Then, they should go and get the form to show their interest. Or do they think they will cross over to APC and get a ticket there. That is wishful thinking. You can imagine, Oyinola being an APC member alongside Governor Rauf Aregbesola and he will be saying ‘yes sir, yes sir,’ to Aregbesola in Osun State. APC members would want to hold meeting with Aregbesola and they will be told that the governor is in another meeting, and Oyinlola will sit down there with others for two hours waiting. You don’t know politicians, we know how to humiliate people.
As the Pro-chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, what’s your thought on our education system, especially now that lecturers have been on strike for five months?
I think government should concentrate on primary education. The intervention and meddlesomeness of government in the university system is not in the interest of Nigeria. All over the world, governments concentrate on the foundation of education. All the money we want to put into tertiary education, let’s put it into primary education. How can 10 million Nigerians be out of school and we are happy. We should not be happy. We should bring them back to school and educate them so that we can have a future. That will prevent a situation where a university graduate cannot write an essay or a situation where the number of private primary school is hundred times the number of public primary school. In our time, it was a pride to attend government colleges. The best students in the communities went to government colleges but it is the reverse now. The children of drivers, roadside mechanics attend private primary school and the children of state governors also attend private primary schools. We need to stop the trend.
Interview read in PUNCH