SPecial Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Inter-Party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi, spoke to some journalists in Ado-Ekiti, last Wednesday after organizing a sensitization workshop for stakeholders in the June 21 Ekiti State governorship election.
Among others, he said Ekiti will have rancour-free and credible polls; Nigeria will overcome Boko Haram insurgency with the Nigerian spirit; fears of military coup is a storm in a tea cup and that Nigeria will not break-up in spite of the US prediction. He said Nigeria would have been on top of the insurgency if his two bills on anti-terrorism and establishment of anti-terrorism agency were passed in 2005. Excerpts:
His take on the Ekiti governorship election sensitization workshop
A good number of the candidates did not come. According to them, they were involved in one campaign or the other. There is one policy I attach to this workshop. I ensure that I personally speak to all the candidates. I spoke to each of the 18 governorship candidates, from the present governor to the former governor. I got their confirmation that they would attend, that the date was okay. My conscience is clear.
The main thrust of the workshop is the pursuit of free, fair and transparent election—one man, one vote; one woman, one vote; one youth, one vote; and one governor, one vote, which is the cardinal principle of my principal, President Goodluck Jonathan.
That is why the President encourages this workshop and approves of it, saying ‘go and make sure that you create an atmosphere that will be devoid of rancour and violence.’ To that extent, I have done what I know I should do.
On whether the absence of 14 governorship candidates including Governor Kayode Fayemi would not undermine the goal of the workshop
The CSO (Chief Security Officer) of the governor and the protocol men came and said the governor was on his way. Being a state chief executive, anything could have cropped up that would have warranted his not being present.
But the important thing is that officials that conduct elections—INEC, security agencies, diplomatic corps and the diplomatic community and other bodies that assist in election were present. It is all about making sure that the election comes out well. The operatives are the ones that really count in as much as you expect that the candidates will cooperate.
Because of the poor turnout of the candidates and the way the PDP Candidate (Ayo Fayose) spoke, I pleaded with the Chairman, General David Jemibewon (rtd) that the Commissioner of Police (Felix Uyanna) should be allowed to react. At past workshops we did not allow the commissioners of police to speak even though they attended. But because of Fayose’s direct attack, we allowed the commissioner of police to speak, he spoke and we now know exactly where we stand on all of these.
We have done our bit, the temperature will come down. I keep saying it, when elections are fast approaching, the temperature rises but as soon as you move closer and closer to the election date, it drops because by that time you would have reduced the shortlist to one or two, three maximum. You know where the flashpoints and likely outburst are and it becomes easy to monitor and check them. As we move closer to June 21, the atmosphere will be convivial for the election. That is my reading of it.
His take on recurring electoral violence in spite of the workshops at a time other countries like Ghana are having violence-free polls
All politics, they say is local. We have our style of doing things and Nigeria’s style has been like that. Before 2011, can you beat your chest and say I know of any election apart from the June 12, 1993 election that you can refer to as an election? Can you hit your chest also and say this is an election that international and local observers say this is it?
We are hearing such now. We are hearing international and local observers saying, ‘yes, you are getting there.’ We are not there yet, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
We have to understand that we are a country where a lot of people want to express them selves in their own way or manner. And if you say, ‘this is wrong.’ They say, ‘how dare you tell me this is wrong?’ They feel they have control of the situation. We must exercise a lot of caution on how we talk to our people.
I try in my own way as Inter-Party adviser to communicate with the opposition parties knowing that I belong to the PDP and also knowing that the success of my job depends on how I can interact with the opposition.
So, I try to do things in a way that will give them some sense of confidence. Whatever I say to them is nothing but the truth. If I betray that trust, I won’t be talking about the workshop.
I won’t be saying that I called Governor Fayemi, for instance. I spoke to him and he gave me his word. I gave him the date and he said it was perfect. The text messages are there. I spoke to the other parties and Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC). If I don’t establish that kind of trust, there is no way we can make headway.
We are talking about the All-politicians’ summit now. I spoke to the leaders of all the parties: ‘This thing is in everybody’s interest. It is not a question of cheap popularity for the PDP, me or anybody.’ When you talk to them in a language they will understand and they understand that what you are saying is real, they will agree with you.
When you are doing things like this, you must also put them into consideration. The luck is that when you talk to the President of the country, if it is a good idea, he will say, ‘go ahead.’
On Boko Haram insurgency and threat to 2015 polls
I am a practical and realistic politician. The fact is this security challenge is a major problem before us. We have to face the reality that what we have is naked terrorism. The only way out of it is that all hands must be on deck. It is not a question of saying it is the responsibility of President Jonathan.
Everybody must hold himself or herself responsible for making sure we end it. We have also agreed that we need the intervention of the international community and they have joined forces with us but mark you; terrorism is new to this country.
The earliest reference that you can make is 9/11. When the 9/11 happened, it took many years before the United States of America could nail Osama.
I keep reminding people that when I went into the Senate in 2005 as against 2003 because of legal battles, two months after I was sworn-in, I put in two bills, one, anti-terrorism bill and two, establishment of anti-terrorism agency. The reason was clear; I was trapped at the pentagon on the day of 9/11 and for me that witnessed that, it was clear to me that we needed to prepare for that rainy day.
Preparing for rainy day
Maybe if we had gone through those bills and established an anti terrorism agency, by now, we would have been on top of the situation. It is a long story regarding what happened, how President Obasanjo got the Attorney General and Minister for Justice to bring in another bill, word-for-word what I proposed.
Here we are. Our security agencies are just going through first training to be able to acquaint themselves with the act of terrorism. That is why I said we need to hold ourselves together, be united and committed to fight the battle because the enemy will not let go. I have never dreamt in my life that things could get to a stage where I will see a Nigerian carrying explosive tied round his waist and get it detonated to be able to wipe off other Nigerians.
I believe that we will overcome this. Nigerians have a way of overcoming this kind of problem, they have a way of coming together and making sure that Nigeria remain a great country.
And that which is the Nigerian spirit will help us to overcome the present challenge that we are facing and I see us going through the 2015 general election in a most successful manner.
His take on 15 years of democracy
So far, so good; that we are experiencing handover from civilian to civilian is a major achievement because one shift of ground will take us many miles down the road and I don’t think that is what we want to experience. Our democracy is growing by the day, we have not got there yet, we still have room for improvement.