• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Nigerians are under bondage – Agbakoba

Rosevelt’s new deal, Thatcher’s big bang hold compass for Tinubu’s $1trn GDP goal – Agbakoba

Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), has said that Nigerians were held down by powers that had made it difficult for them to extricate themselves.
He described Nigerians as being in a cage and unable to free themselves.

Agbakoba, who spoke with BusinessDay in an exclusive interview, likened the condition of Nigerians to a situation where a lion is holding its prey.

“If a lion is holding you down, you are not likely to go anywhere. So, we are held down by a weight that we can’t shake off, and that is the problem,” he said.

According to him, “There are people who have captured the state; they are benefiting and don’t care what people suffer. So, we are unable to resolve it. It is as if it is a state capture.”

He also blamed the problem of Nigeria on the selfishness of politicians, saying, “They like failure of the system because it benefits them and when they benefit from the system they don’t care the way it impacts the economy.”

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You have been commenting on the election since they were held by way of press statements and television appearances. Although cases are pending at the tribunal which means the elections are not yet over; may we know your assessment of the 2023 general election?

First, given what the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu promised Nigerians, that the elections were going to be pains-taking organised elections, but it wasn’t so; we had expectations.

Even INEC itself has acknowledged its failure; all the major observers – both domestic and international- have said it fell below the standard of well organised elections. It was very poorly organised. One problem was logistic, late start, failure of the biometric and violence.

We all thought that the biometric was going to be a full-proof validation of what a candidate scores but it turns out that all the INEC chairman says is that the biometric is simply a process of accreditation, that we still rely on the old manual process and I then wonder.

That led me to review the state of the biometrics in the law and I found out that it was quite true. That what happened was that the National Assembly led us on a wild goose chase.

So, we thought that the biometrics was what it never turned out to be which has been invalidated by the decision of the court of Appeal in the Osun case.

What the court said in the Osun case is that the so-called proof of over-voting established by the biometrics is not sufficient; that it is necessary to connect the biometrics to the old primary count.

So, the biometrics has not been as effective as we all thought it was. INEC has actually failed because everybody believed the biometric thing is the standard solution. So, that has led to all manner of confusion where parties are aggrieved – Peter obi is aggrieved. Atiku is aggrieved; and they have all gone to court and as a result of the extremely slow judicial process many are worried (even though I am not worried) that what if Mr. Tinubu- because we have to recognise that he is the president-elect, is sworn in on 29th May, but there is still a petition.

So, that has given rise to a lot of suggestions – can it (the inauguration) be delayed? The issues of interim government which I do not accept because it is not in the constitution; Lai Mohammed’s comments and Obi’s response and all that about treason; a lot of confusion out there which has made the atmosphere toxic.

But I have a simple solution which is to say why is it that the legal teams of all the petitioners are not active? I don’t understand it; why is it that the Tribunal is not active? I don’t understand it, because the elections took place almost two months ago.

Kenya takes only 14-day cycle to finish their petition, but we take 240 days; why? If the Kenyans can do it in 14 days what’s wrong with us? We need to be pro-active. You see the problem with the Nigerian judiciary is that they are still steeped in the theory of 100 years ago, when the judge sits and does nothing unless counsels make an application. Now the judges are pro-active.

So, in Kenya; the Kenyan Judiciary Motto is ‘Sustaining Judiciary Transformation.’ They are proactive. If it were in Kenya, the judges would have said No, No, No, we can see the potential of Mr. Tinubu becoming president when the petition is still pending; let us hear it.

There are not too many issues to hear; complex as they are the question whether you need to win Abuja is one, the question whether you can be vice presidential candidate and senatorial candidate is another one, the question whether Mr. Tinubu’s qualifications are dated; these can be decided in one day.

All that the court does in case management theory which is to allot time, say – Mr. Obi, your lawyers one hour; Tinubu, your lawyers-one hour; this might be 9.O’cloclk in the morning; by 6pm they deliver a decision. Why can’t it be done?

What then do you think is the problem with our system?

The problem with our system is the selfishness of politicians. They like failure of the system because it benefits them and when they benefit from the system they don’t care the way it impacts the economy.

Look at the absolute nonsensical monetary policy of Godwin Emefiele. I can’t understand what that was all about. He didn’t care that millions of Nigerians are suffering. The economy was dove-tailing. He made a policy that he could not deliver.

He changed the currency. OK, may be, there are good reason; so, where is the money?

So, what is the problem with this country where people can’t speak. So, it is as if it is a state capture. There are people who have captured the state; they are benefitting and don’t care what people suffer. So, we are unable to resolve it.

The momentum in the entire Nigerians to say, you know what, let’s shoot the system down is not there. Like when people talk about revolution, like Sowore – it is not there. If a lion is holding you down, you are not likely to go anywhere So, we are held down by weight that we can’t shake off, and that is the problem.

Some people are saying that the election that brought in the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was also heavily flawed and that no matter how flawed the past election was, it doesn’t matter anything. What is your take here?

First of all, just like I have said, people who are in the process and those that are enjoying the flawed process have no interest to change it.

So, along came Yar’Adua (once in a long while you have a good man). So, Yar’Adua came and said this thing wasn’t proper; I want to now bring a credible process which I would put in place to remove the flaws.
I was on Uwais Panel, unfortunately he (Yar’Adua) died.
Since he died, not one of what we recommended has been passed. The Electoral Offences Commission has not passed; the question of electronic voting has not passed; the question that before inauguration takes place, all petitions should finish has not passed. Nothing has happened and since Yar’Adua died there has been no other person who has had the honesty and courage to admit “my election was flawed.’ That is the problem.

If you continue having bad people why would they be interested in changing the system? No bad man is interested in changing a bad system; so, that’s where we are. So, unless you can find someone who understands that Nigeria cannot continue in this rot and that it is sinking and that unless he as President does something, we will continue to go down.

With what is happening, some Nigerians are saying they may never ever again participate in the election voting process in the country. They have lost interest and faith in the system. What danger do you foresee for the country as a result of the flawed election?

What I think that might begin to happen is loss of faith in the Nigeria system. People are going to begin to say, this Nigeria experiment do we really need it, because it is the clash of ethno-religious interest that is at the heart of the problem.

Political restructuring was a tool that could create the space so that we all can have our spaces in order to express ourselves; but even that one is being constrained because those bad people don’t own the space, but they are enjoying the space.

So, I don’t know what is going to happen but potentially things can spiral down in a way that things can get out of control. It will not be like you see it coming like a rain; you can predict a heavy rain coming; because I am sure that 90 percent of Nigerians are seriously frustrated and they are now held down in a cage.

If you construct a cage in which you can put animals, they can’t come out.
It’s like what happened in the era of slave trade where people came and hunted human beings and put them in ships; they were helpless, that is how helpless Nigerians are, but the day they find a way to express themselves; to express their liberty, things will change. There is no doubt about it.

Many people have wondered why it appears that the fight between the APC and LP is threatening to tear apat the ethnic relations between the Yoruba and Igbo races. Other people are contesting the election and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP is also contesting the result at the Tribunal; why is the focus on Peter Obi?

I don’t understand it either. I really don’t know. It surprises me, because Peter Obi is only Number 3 that, actually, it ought to be the Number 2 man that should be in the picture. That shows you that there are lots of unspoken issues under the table that we are not seeing that is at play.

Clearly, the bad forces, as I call the, would want to use every possible opportunity to keep the system in check and Peter Obi’s heroic performance is a threat that this man is a guy to watch, because if he has done this; even if he loses the petition, there is a force, he has opened that cage that has been locked for a long time.

You have a lot of Nigerians held down in that cage and the forces are now saying, No, it is dangerous to leave this cage open. And that cage contains frustrated Nigerians, #ENDSARS type of people; unemployed youths- these types don’t care about tribe, religion or sentiments- they just understand that they are Nigerians; and they are not governed by these primordial sentiments, that’s the segments that Peter Obi represents. So, to keep him caged is very important.

Do you believe that president Muhammadu Buhari is the hero of the 2023 election?

No. How can he be the hero of the election? The hero of the election is Peter Obi. I don’t see it personally. The elections were flawed; they were not well organised. I can only say that in fairness to him, he has maintained a studied distance; that’s the way I see it. You can’t say he’s an APC man; and naturally he supports his own party; but I will not call him a hero.

Read also: Nigeria’s hollow democracy

From your own perspective, what are the possible challenges that the Tinubu administration will face?

One of the big challenges will be legitimacy. Theres’ a very strong feeling that the elections were marred and in fairness, Tinubu cannot be blamed. He did not organise the election.

You can’t blame him; he didn’t go about telling the INEC give me the vote. The person to blame is the electoral management body, the INEC; Tinubu has no blame.

Everybody that goes into a contest wants to win. The problem is that the election rather than unite has fractured Nigeria. That fracture has been coming because of the ethnic wars, religions killings; so the fracture has been opened and the election and the results have opened it further.

So, one of the key things is that assuming that Tinubu gets elected with this petition, the first thing he needs to do is to appeal to the conscience of Nigerians for legitimacy even though he won; because people are going to say ‘that your victory.’ He will need to really sell himself and get accepted.

For him to do that he will need to repair fractured state of Nigerians; he needs to heal the wounds.

The only way he can do it is to call for a government of national unity and address the question of political restructure so that the very things that keep us separate can be addressed; otherwise the challenges he will confront will be huge.

How would you react to the kind of things we hear; for instance, the Federal Government officials going abroad to say the kind of things they say about Nigeria and Nigerians?

Personally, I don’t understand why Lai Mohammed should go to America and be talking about treason merely because Peter Obi is expressing his constitutional rights to say ‘I felt cheated’. I don’t understand.

In any case, is Lai Mohammed not part of the outgoing government? The only battle now to be resolved is that of election petition; so everybody should be quiet.

When they continue talking they continue to heat up the already inflamed passion.
There is a call for interim government, because some people are saying, how can Tinubu become president and we are still having petitions.

So, why is it that everybody that is shouting, including lawyers on all the sides cannot see, these are very senior lawyers, they understand case management.

Case management means that the fundamental objective of resolving a dispute is to finish a dispute before inauguration.

So why are they not taking steps, to say to the court, we need to have this resolve before inauguration and we feel that these questions if reviewed might resolve it. But they filed the petition and they have gone home.

Then also on the part of the Tribunal, they also have a duty of their own power just like the National Assembly will say; ‘there is a motion of urgent national importance’.

They can also say this is an issue of urgent national importance and as a result “we hereby issue the following directives Peter Obi lawyers, you come on this day; Tinubu’s lawyers come this day; Atiku’s lawyers, come on this other day. We are taking on these things and when we take on these things, we decide it and everybody goes home; one way or the other.

What lesson, as a Nigerian do you learn from the botched CBN Naira redesign policy?

The lesson I learned is that Nigeria is a crazy country; that anything goes because I don’t understand the purpose of the redesign policy. It doesn’t make sense to me as a development lawyer. What were they trying to achieve? I can’t see it.

One lesson I have learnt is that this is just a Banana Republic where any senior officer in power abuses it.

What has happened to the CBN governor for taking us through this difficulty? There’s no consequence. Nobody is asking him anything. He is above the law. He passes a regulation that makes no sense; he doesn’t explain it.

The policy failed, and he doesn’t have the courtesy to say ‘Oh I intended to achieve this; but I am sorry! But because he is above the law, he doesn’t care that we are suffering.

But some people believe it’s Buhari handiwork…?

Well, Buhari is not the CBN governor. If he did it then unfortunately, then it means that Emefiele allowed himself to be used. I cannot see that it was Buhari, the person I saw do it was Emefiele. So, if he allowed Buhari to use him that’s actually his funeral.

What is your advice to Nigerians looking at the way things are in the country?

My advice to Nigerians is that they have to stand up for their rights. We have taken enough of this.

If we don’t make noise there will be no change. If people in power feel that they can do anything and get away with it, then it is what professor Nwabueze has called impunity.

What avenue can Nigerians vent their frustration since the powers that be still outlaw actions that gear towards civil disobedience, or even peaceful protest?

Nigerians have no power, they have been caged. They are all looking for their daily bread; they are so terrified by the state that has become so big.

When people are not able to organise they suffer in silence and agony. We have been torn apart by ethnic, religious and linguistic issues, and there are no national leaders that we can aspire to, say this person if you follow him he is likely to take us out. There are no leaders.

Everybody is selfish; everybody is fighting on his little corner for the little money they can make. So, people can’t say this is a moral leader like Mandela who if we follow him, even if it is 10, 15 years, we shall get to the promised land like Martin Lurther King.

We absolutely have nobody like that in Nigeria, we actually have political charlatans; that’s why we are where we are.