Professor Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate, has strongly condemned the uproar caused by the Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket as Nigerians prepare for general elections next year.
According to him, the current agitation for or against the Muslim/Muslim ticket is not only unnecessary, but also a reflection of how the country has been divided along religious lines and its citizens made to look different from one another since childhood.
He said this emphatically on Tuesday, August 2, as moderator of a lecture/interactive session hosted by the historic Abeokuta Club to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The lecture’s theme was “Good Governance or Misgovernance: The Contract Called Democracy.”
The literary icon began the lecture by saying that the gathering was very timely, and that he hoped it would help clarify many things as the country prepares for the 2020 general election.
“This gathering couldn’t have come at a better time. In fact, I hope that a series of similar encounters will take place across the country between now and the long-awaited day next year. If we’re being completely honest, I believe it will help many people clarify a number of things in their minds before that day and possibly move us a little bit closer to pulling us out of the quagmire in which we find ourselves.
“I believe we’ve all come here with a lot of negative baggage around our necks.” “And also a smidgeon of hope, a smidgeon of illumination,” Soyinka said.
The Nobel Laureate, while acknowledging the presence of secondary school students in uniform, whom he said such events were primarily for, also used the occasion to take a jab at the current agitations for or against a Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket, the Hijab controversy, and the debate over whether students should be allowed to wear religious garbs to school or not.
“There’s something else going on in my head. And I believe we have experts here who will speak about it. There are some students over there. And one thing I like about them is that they are dressed in uniform. In other words, I can’t tell who is a Christian and who is a Muslim,Which is a worshipper of Orisa, which is a Zoroastrian, and which is a Buddhist? They are students.
“They are equal, and they are encouraged to see one another as human beings, not as separate creatures.” And I’d like to know if it’s against democracy for schools to require children to wear uniforms so that they don’t stand out too much. So they don’t see each other as different.
“So now I’m talking to religious people.” Why, I ask, do you want to create such stark distinctions at that impressionable age, when we need to teach our children to see one another as equals, as the same people, as the same entitled creatures of society?
“These are issues that I hope we will address as well.” Because when we hear expressions like Muslim/Muslim ticket, Christian/Christian ticket, orisa/orisa worshipper ticket, we immediately think of Muslims. This is where it all starts. This is where the anxiety sets in. This is the beginning of the anxiety and phobia. This is where it starts, when you teach children to be different at an impressionable age. “These are issues that I hope you will assist in resolving,” Soyinka said.
As Nigerians approach the upcoming elections, Soyinka took advantage of the opportunity to emphasize not only the people’s right to elect their representatives, but also the need for those representatives to be allowed to do their jobs. He reminisced about the unfortunate events that occurred in Ogun State in 2009, when then-Governor Otunba Gbenga Daniel locked out members of the state house of assembly for 15 months.
“We’ve gathered here in Abeokuta, where something extraordinary happened a few years ago, because democracy, as everyone says and agrees, is more than just elections.” However, elections are also involved. An election is held for a specific reason. The main goal is to elect people to speak for us. We entrust our burdens, anxieties, and desires to these representatives. And we go through this exercise, which is expensive and frequently dangerous. People lose their lives over elections, which should never happen.
“We’ve gathered here in Abeokuta, where something extraordinary happened a few years ago, because democracy is more than just elections, as everyone says and agrees.” Elections, however, are also involved. An election is held for a particular reason. The primary goal is to elect people to speak on our behalf. These representatives bear our burdens, anxieties, and desires. And we go through this expensive and frequently dangerous exercise. People are killed because of elections, which should never happen.
“And so, when you elect people to represent you, you expect them not only to do their job, but to be left alone to do it, not to have their mission, their responsibility truncated in any way.” This is commonly referred to as a coup detat. And yet, in this state, in this town, elected officials were locked out of their assembly hall for nearly 15 months.
Soyinka, on the other hand, stated that he was not trying to reopen old wounds, but was simply asking questions, and that the said governor had since apologized to him.
“I’m not trying to reopen old wounds now.” Don’t get me wrong. No. I’m making inquiries. I’m requesting illumination. And we cannot move forward unless we take stock of the past in order to avoid repeating or allowing the same mistakes to be made. For example, I can tell you that the governor responsible for the coup has since apologized to me. He arrived after he had left office. He expressed regret. So I’m not attempting to roast or put him on trial. In fact, it should be normal a dead issue.
He also wondered why he should be blamed for not supporting then-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s re-election bid when, during the coup, he turned a blind eye and pretended as if the issue had been resolved.
“However, sadly. And it is for this reason that I pose the question. What exactly do we mean by democracy? Because when the person in charge of the entire nation at the time wanted his re-election and lost, some of us are being accused of being responsible for his fate,” he said, adding that when the legislators were locked out, he called the President, especially since he made the governor his campaign manager at the time.
“And eventually I picked up the phone and called the President at that time, especially since he then appointed that governor as his campaign manager for re-election.” I called him and asked, ‘What signal are you sending to people, especially the Ogun electorate, from whom you expect support?’ You are appointing as your campaign manager someone who has blatantly, insultingly, truncated the will of the people of Ogun State, who did nothing.
“An appeal has been made to you.” You pretended nothing was happening. To make matters worse, you appointed that person as your election campaign manager. What democratic message do you believe you’re sending? I’d tell you what he said. ‘Ah Prof, do you mean they haven’t solved that problem yet?’ he asked. That is our country’s president. And yet, some idiots expect someone like me, with no knowledge or experience, to come out and support that president’s attempt to stay in power.
“I want to know what kind of democratic understanding the electorate carries to the polls.” So when I say, ‘Do not vote for this and this person,’ I know what I’m talking about. I’m aware of the crimes they’ve committed against the electorate. I know how they have undermined the very principles of democracy. And I am well aware of their dereliction of duty, as well as their tacit encouragement and support for those who undermine the democratic process.
“The question on my mind, and when I say democracy, I’m not quoting it in broad strokes.” But I’m hoping to be enlightened about what we mean by democracy before I leave. What the electorate means by democracy, and what the rulers and commentators mean by democracy. Why am I saying this? Why is this on my mind right now?
“I hope that during our discussions, you will be able to enlighten me as to what is expected of those who have been disenfranchised, whose votes have been taken away when their representatives are not allowed to represent them.” “What else does democracy mean?” Soyinka inquired.
Mr Femi Falana, SAN, a human rights lawyer who spoke on the theme Governance Structure and Rule of Law, agreed with Soyinka on the Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket debate. While marshaling his arguments, Falana lamented the rot that had infiltrated the Nigerian political system.
According to the highly respected lawyer, unlike in the second republic, when politics was based on issues and programs, the current political epoch is marked by primitive accumulation of wealth and primordial concerns about Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Muslim ticket.
“However, in the second republic here, in this part of the world, we were discussing the four cardinal programmes of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN – free education, free health, rural integration, and full employment.” Today, however, the only cardinal program is money, money, money,” Falana stated.
Falana also slammed the uproar some Nigerians are making over the Muslim/Muslim ticket and how it has polarized the country, claiming that there was nothing like it during the Second Republic.
“Prof was just discussing religion. Nobody bothered in the second republic, despite the fact that Ogun State has a sizable Muslim population. Onabanjo and Soluade both practice the same religion. Jakande and Jafofo are Muslim communities in Lagos. Bola Ige and Afolabi were Christians even in Oyo State, which has a large Muslim population. Nobody cared. Today, however, it is all about a Muslim/Muslim ticket or a Christian/Muslim ticket. And all of them shop at Babalawo.
“In this country, a Christian president allocated 4.7 billion naira in 2014 for what they called Spiritual Consultation – to consult marabouts.” That same year, they donated $6 billion to CAN to pray for the man. “Unfortunately, despite all the prayers, he did not win the election,” Falana recalled.
The human rights lawyer, on the other hand, maintained that Nigeria is in crisis, owing to the reckless manner in which governance and security have been left to the presidency, as well as the apparent helplessness and nonchalance of officials at the state and local government levels.
He then urged Nigerians to hold governments at all levels accountable, not just the federal government, lamenting, for example, the general public’s lack of understanding of local government council budgets.
“To put it bluntly, our country is in crisis.” And the crisis is exacerbated by our governors’ refusal to run the country effectively. It is not the responsibility of Abuja alone to secure all of us under this constitution. But we are all led to believe that the Nigerian police force is ineffective because it is unsafe. No.”
Falana also claimed that there is no government in Nigeria because the primary purpose of governance, which is to ensure the welfare and security of the people, has been defeated.
“Popular democracy is the foundation of democracy in Nigeria, according to the Nigerian constitution.” Everyone must vote in order for their representatives to be elected. Second, the primary goal of governance shall be the welfare and security of the people. You don’t have a government if you don’t care about the security and well-being of the people. That is also the case in Nigeria.
“But the mistake we all make when it comes to governance in Nigeria is that we all look solely to Abuja.” We’re all talking about the Abuja budget. We are not concerned about state budgets as industrialists. In fact, no local government in Nigeria has a budget today. So we must first consider the nature of governance in Nigeria. There is a federal government, a state government, and a local government
“Lagos is Africa’s fifth largest economy.” The Lagos budget is not being debated. Ogun State is now one of the top earners of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). But how many of you are concerned about Ogun State’s budget, let alone local government?
“Prof just mentioned secondary school students. It was reported and widely circulated two weeks ago that secondary school students in Ogun State were sitting on the bare floor and taking exams. The government was humiliated. The chairs and tables were moved to the school the next day. However, such schools still exist in Ogun State.”
Falana then bemoaned the stomach infrastructure and vote buying politics that recently played out in the Ekiti governorship election and the recently concluded Osun State governorship election. He claimed that the People Democratic Party, which won the governorship elections in Osun State, was inspired by the All Progressive Party, which had made vote buying the norm in Ekiti State.
“At the end of the day, a dancer, a beautiful dancer, the election winner.” And that was the end of it. The PDP said, “Where the APC gives three thousand, give five thousand; where they give five thousand, give ten thousand; and where they give ten thousand, give twenty thousand.”
Falana also discussed the National Council of States, the Nigeria Police Council, and governors’ apparent inability to solve security problems in their states due to their inability to free themselves from federal might and address insecurity in their states.
He cited the cases of Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi and Zamfara State Governor, saying, “Our governors are not ready to defend our democratic rights.”
“I believe the Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, as Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, publicly and humiliatingly stated, ‘We wanted to import drones to monitor security in our states’.” However, the National Security Adviser has refused to grant us permission.
“Please forgive me. What is a National Security Adviser? Like Adesina, Special Adviser on Media, the man is a security adviser to the President. He has no executive authority. So you can’t deny a governor’s application. ‘Two governors in the South West came to me to complain about security,’ the president said. ‘Go back to your state and secure your people,’ I said. So, if the President agrees that it is your responsibility to secure your future, why are you rushing to Abuja?
“On the issue of the rule of law, all of us here must challenge our governments.” Murders are taking place here. In terms of ritual murder, Ogun State is second only to Osun State in the South West. Human blood is now being used in politics. Every day, the police receive reports. They parade the suspects, but they are never prosecuted because Nigeria lacks the rule of law. We have male rule. As a result, let us all unite to fight for our country’s rule of law.
It was more than a lecture because it was an interactive session in which both the discussants and the audience rubbed shoulders. The audience asked questions, and the panelists responded. At the end of the day, plaques were presented to Soyinka and Falana for their invaluable contributions to the country’s good governance. Mr Fola Adeola, a well-known technocrat and banker, presided over the event.
Prof Is-haq Oloyede spoke on Education and Human Capital Development; Olootu Ogooluwa Bankole (SMEs and Economic Growth); Chief Sunday Oduntan (Steady Energy Generation and Distribution as a Catalyst for Economic Growth); and Dr. Gbenga Adeoye (Steady Energy Generation and Distribution as a Catalyst for Economic Growth) (Industry and Production – Catalyst to Youth Employment).