Convener, 70 Civil Society ORGANIZATIONS, and National President, Campaign for Dignity in Governance (CDG), Comrade Razaq Olokoba, is a Chartered Public Administrator (CPA), fellow, Nigeria Institute of Management (MNIM), and Security Consultant.
In this interview with journalist on Saturday, October 28, in Lagos, the frontline human right activist and pro-democracy campaigner spoke on the just delivered Supreme Court verdict over the presidential election of February 25, 2023, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s sacrifices for democracy in Nigeria as well as reasons Civil Society organizations of radical extraction could not abandon him.
What’s your reaction on the Supreme Court verdict over the outcome of the presidential election of February 25?
As a patriotic Nigerian, I should be happy. If you look at the implications of what Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr Peter Obi along with their cohorts were trying to do, it would have put this country into chaos. We know very well that they have the rights to challenge the outcome of the election in court particularly when they felt aggrieved. But there is a limit to which you can push for your right for the larger interest of the society.
Larger interest as how?
The larger interest is the 250 million Nigerians whose mandates collectively given to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to be their president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces would have been truncated if they had succeeded.
And henceforth, we must make sure that we do everything humanly possible to avert things of this nature in the future. And one of the surest ways to avert it is to ensure that the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) puts everything in place to ensure that all the elected officers and contestants know their limit. I am aware that all the countries in the world have their own political bureau that gives the required training to every candidate that is aspiring either to become a councillor up to aspiration to become governor and president to understand the political culture and consciousness of their countries. They will know that it is not just to win an election by political parties but it is also about what is the political ideology of the country I am in. And that it is also to know what is expected of a statesman because anybody that has acquired the capacity to become the president of Nigeria is a statesman. So, what is expected of him is that he will never be involved in any conduct that could create trauma for Nigeria.
That is the responsibility of the INEC. INEC must ensure that the candidate going to contest for the president must be trained to know that there is a limit to which you can exercise your rights. It is part of patriotism. You cannot exercise your right to the point where you would put the whole country into chaos! And all the matters that have been brought to court, to us, were deliberately to create picture of a chaotic Nigeria where the centre can no longer hold. That was what they have in mind! And if you look at it very well, you would agree with me that it was a scaring situation.
How do you mean?
Okay, thank you very much. take for instance, in 1966, if the coup had not held, Sadauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello would have been alive today or be dead in a glorious manner. Sir Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister would have also been around; Sir Ladoke Akintola would have been around too. Sultan of Sokoto then would have been around. And Nzeogwu and Yakubu Gowon and the 27 years of the military aberration would not have happened to this country!
So, nobody would have known what would have happened if Atiku has succeeded. And I hope Atiku was not thinking that, if Tinubu was removed from office by the Supreme Court, he would be the President. I hope he is not thinking along that direction. What would have happened after the removal of Tinubu, nobody would have imagined it! The effort that would remove Tinubu, it would take just half of it to remove him. That is our own position in all of this that we want the country to sail safely in this direction. You cannot truncate and create another political emergence that would reverse our political prosperity again. So, it is good and I hope it would just stop at that.
In a television interaction earlier, you talked about the roles some of you played even as students to ascertain the authenticity of President Tinubu’s certificate. Do you think President Tinubu is aware of that effort?
Whether he is aware of it or not was not the point I was driving at. The import of the revelation was to show the world that it is part of the responsibilities of members of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to ascertain and be sure of facts about whatever struggle they are engaged in. On moral ground, you should ensure that when you are combative, you are doing the right thing. The history of the certificate scandal did not start in 2023. It started as far back as the year 1999/2000 and then, we remember clearly the role Tinubu played in our difficult days of the struggle and in the fight against the military towards attaining democracy for Nigeria. He took active part. I remember very clearly that on numerous occasions, how he would sneak in briefly to take part in the protest and disappear again. We remember that vividly. That is a class suicide if you ask me! He would leave his comfort zone to join our struggle.
So, for us in the Civil Society, such people become unforgettable in our life. And when election came around and he contested, it was natural for us to seek an alliance with him to make sure he won that election. And when he eventually emerged as President, we wanted to be sure that what we were defending in his credibility, in his character and his contribution that we are right. And that is why we took that decision at that time that we wanted to know whether he truly earned that certificate. That was what led to the sacrifice of people putting down their pocket money, their school fees, their feeding allowances to be certain whether he earned that certificate truly or not. It came out that he was a student in that school, he finished there and he did well.
And that was the first radical departure we had with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), that we can’t criminalise this man (Tinubu) on the frivolous charges that he didn’t finish there. We told Gani Fawehinmi that we cannot call this man a criminal. We knew what we has done to ascertain it and that is what informed our resolve that we will stand by Tinubu. You will discover that since 1999 till date, we meet occasionally and talk freely. But through the period of the election, we never set our eyes on him Asiwaju. But that does not remove our support for him up till today, and we are going to be with him by the grace of God through the period he will be the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is part of us. The radical consistency is his constituency.
Is he aware of it?
The question is not whether he is aware of it or not. We should create the argument in his defence because as just councillors, we know the pressure on them let alone Council Chairmen, governors and above all, Mr President. All what we could do is to continue doing what we are doing. We know that at an appropriate time, he would understand the importance of that engagement. When he was governor there were robust engagements and every outcome of public opinion we conducted was not influenced by any interest. We were not seeking office from him. We were not after inducement because nobody can coerce us. At every point, any result we brought, when verified would be in line with what would happen. When he brought Babatunde Fashola on board, we came up with a verdict that, the Action Congress (AC) then could lose if the party failed to field him for a second term.
When he brought in Akinwumi Ambode, six months into his first term, we warned Asiwaju that this may likely be the end of his career if he did not change Ambode given his (Ambode’s) character then. And after three years, Asiwaju came out to agree that we were right. And today we remember when it got to the point of reviewing the case of Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu given his pedigree, his character and antecedence, we observed then that he was going to be in a very peaceful relationship with the governor of Lagos State who happens to be the political head of Lagos-Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. We wrote a report and we submitted it to him. Today, we are vindicated. Sanwo-Olu does not disappoint us. He is doing well as a fantastic administrator in Lagos State.
So, why we are not bothered whether he got our messages on what we are doing now or not is because he is now surrounded by certain people that have responsibilities to perform and not to look at what people are saying about him, what political class are saying about him or what religious people are saying about him. The focus of everyone now is about success of the administration. That is one. Two is, before now, we used to have a few people to facilitate our engagement a Serving Senator now is among, a former governor now, around him also then were today currently a traditional ruler, a former Minister and another a Chief of Staff to a Governor now etc . We used to have so many people like that that were facilitating periodic engagements with him.
And now that the guards around him have changed, all we could do is to keep doing what we are doing and whatever advice and roles we are supposed to play should continue. We are about the most vociferous in asserting our position that it is dangerous for Nigeria, if the Presidency is not rotated and particularly to the south-west, we brought numerous examples from across the world. We cautioned that the north should not tinker about the idea of numerical strength. We made it clear that all regions in the country have special areas of strength-some economy, some commerce- and that the north should use their numerical strength to strengthen the nation. We had endless debates we had endless arguments; well the internet is there tap into it the whole world will see our activities.
And that was why when Muhammadu Buhari too was coming on board, he engaged us. During the second term of Fashola, a few months to Fayemi’s second term election in Ekiti State, we told Asiwaju Tinubu that Fayemi would lose. We were all in Ekiti and he lost. And it was when he came back after four years of Ayodele Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that he won again. And we told him that, in a few months’ time, Aregbesola would be victorious in his election in Osun State. All these facts are there in the record he won’t forget.
I know that he is aware of all what we are doing such that when Buhari was to come on board, he sought understanding with us. That is what is called political relationship. And the relationship is not missing. Whether we sit down together to discuss or not we know where our agreement stands. All what we are sure of is that he will not deviate from pursuing agenda for a better and egalitarian Nigeria. So, he would be aware that we are doing what we are doing. We may not have someone that has a more solid affinity with us in his government. Yes, we may not have, but the fact that he is gravitating towards the agenda of the radical in moving the country the way he is moving it now, we are satisfied.
During the build up to the election we took note of the Political Currency and when he had that glorious victory we knew there would be unholy alliance. So, we re-activated all our structures across the country and we braved up for the emerging political threat. It was not a surprise therefore when Labour threatened, immediately we pulled out our Coalition from the Civil Society and Labour we galvanized Nigerians to be wary of the intention of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and had numerous engagements including the famous world press conference that declared a region a protest free zone.
You may not know that Tinubu’s greatest asset as a politician is his capacity to consult widely before taking any major political decision. And what I noticed about him during our last engagement when I was the General Secretary of a coalition at the Freedom House, Victoria Island is that he will never underrate any suggestion from any group and that has been working for him. The meeting was during the build-up towards the alliance of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and a Faction of PDP to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).
How soon do you hope to have any further engagement with him again for robust exchange of ideas you used to do?
We are optimistic that at the appropriate time, we would sit down to engage him as we used to do because we know he is a man of engagement. He is one of the very few politicians in Nigeria that understands the importance of engagement and creation of platform for interaction. If you listen to what the Labour leaders said; they said Tinubu is from their side and understands what it means to confront the government with protest. He is a man from that terrain and he understands the importance of this engagement I am talking about.
Do you feel marginalized after his victory at the poll?
It is neither here nor there. We said it earlier that gestation period for a new government for us to see the light at the end of the tunnel is two years, it would amount to a contradiction if we are the same people turning round to say he is not talking to us before two years in office. This is his natural constituency, it is not for him on the first day in office to start putting up into all the available position. It is for that sector to help him consolidate. Let us leave the initiative to him. There are complains that there were some people around him, who have passed through thick and thin with him, who passed through the struggle with him, and the question now is where are those people now?! Yes, that is where we are now. A lot of our comrades would disagree with this position. But the defence we put up is that, the man needs to consolidate. We cannot be part of the town criers regarding political satisfaction in terms of concession to offices every day.
We have built a barricade around him all other things will definitely fall in place.
And that is what political participation is all about. It is about- am I part of the process? And the first step to be part of the process is to have someone that is going to represent your interest in the government. So, all the appointments coming up now are to satisfy numerous constituencies. Therefore, for us at the radical consistency and human right group, we know at the appropriate time, there would be that engagements for others to open the door to continue to interact with him.
So, we will not leave him. We will continue to build barricade around him, we will continue to support him, and we will continue to explain to Nigerians the importance of not creating confusion for your government. If we don’t get down to explain to Nigerians and the combative approach is allowed to sail, the tendency is that government would have the impression that they are not doing the right thing. And once the government get that impression, it would leave the path and face another direction. We need a lot of explanations and that is the reason we said that half of the job of government is actually engagement. And that attitude is being cultivated by this government.
And the joy of it is that there are numerous sectors under the Federal Government that must be all out to engage the people. A very good officer has become the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA). That is fantastic. That is a good one. Others like Radio Nigeria, Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Voice of Nigeria (VON), and others are platforms for Nigerians to get information on how the government would move Nigeria out of the crisis we find ourselves at the moment.
So, we don’t want to be part of the pressure on the government, we want to assist the government to navigate the country towards political stability and economic sustainability. And as we go about it in the neighbourhood engagements and community relations across the country, what we come out with was that expectations from the president are very huge! And what you do in such a situation is to to assist him to explain all the difficult policies that people see as anti-people and the importance of such policies like the removal of oil subsidy and other things that follow it like borrowing to the people. we have to explain to the people that we run a borrowing economy. We have to explain to them that capitalist economy is a borrowing economy and that under a capitalist economy the recurring decimal is profit. So, there is need for privatization and there is the need for people’s participation in the critical sectors of the economy.
This explanation is very important and that is why henceforth INEC needs to school our president, to school our governors to understand the nature of the country they are governing as Chief Executive Officers. Yes, we need to explain to Nigerians that this is where we stand, and this is the role of government and this is the role of the people.
We are ready, we are willing and we won’t stop what we are doing.