Revered writer and pastor, Dr. Femi Aribisala has recently opened up on reasons why he is ashamed to refer to General Muhammadu Buhari as a president.
Aribisala aired his views during an interaction with editors at Vanguard where he also serves as a columnist.
He expressed immense admiration for the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan in the process.
Below are the excerpts:
What is your perspective on the just concluded presidential election?
This has been the most important political campaign I have witnessed in Nigeria. And the campaign will, to some extent, define the presidency. There were things that needed to be said, emphasized and brought to Buhari’s attention because we needed to remind him that some things would not be acceptable if he becomes the president. Buhari was made to go through a lot of phases.
There were some things like the Muslim-Muslim ticket which some of us made so much noise about and they just had to drop it at some point. There were other things that Buhari did which he would not normally do because we made so much noise about his antecedents.
Sometimes people simplistically define the process by the result. No! The whole debate is to make him understand that it is not what he had before. It was to make him realize that this is a democratic framework. It was also to sensitize him that certain things would not be acceptable.
How did you come about your claim that INEC rigged the election for Buhari?
There are certain things that are interesting about this election. The first one is that it is one of the most keenly contested elections that we have had in this country. It involved more people. But 10 million less people voted than last time, which gives us some idea as to how true some of the figures we have been having before had been.
But the question is: Where did the decline of 10 million come from? I discovered that it came disproportionately in certain areas than it did in others. And to some extent, if you look at the PVC distribution, you can project the election. It is because Buhari could campaign in the South, but the North did not permit same kind of liberty for the president. The president was stoned in Buachi and he was threatened.
By the time the pattern of PVC distribution became very known even in war-torn states, it was easy to know that it had been front-loaded. When you then analyze the election result itself, you will discover that some places just had an incredible suppression of voters in spite of high level of interest. Some people had an incredible number of voters. And I am still interested in why more people voted in the governorship election in Katsina than the presidential election.
On alleged gang- up against President Jonathan
If Buhari had contested in the United States, there is no way that he could win. It is impossible. We know his antecedents. Nigeria doesn’t even teach history in schools. Once you bring up the antecedents, the very idea of having such a person gunning for a position, not even talk of the presidency, would have nullified his candidacy. I was not just writing about Buhari because he tried to arrest me.
There were all sorts of things that he did and for which he never apologised. Buhari took ownership of those things. And he never asked for forgiveness. At different points in the history of Nigeria, he was given an opportunity to do that. We set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission but he refused to do it. You don’t forgive a man who does not repent.
With regards to President Jonathan, I had a problem with the gang-up. And I think it is wrong for two major tribes to gang up against someone from the minority. Why should a President be called clueless? I don’t think that someone will get away with calling Obasanjo clueless. Somehow I feel that the South-South is entitled to have their son as president and we were acting as if we were doing them a favour. If it was not providence that threw up Goodluck Jonathan, I wonder if we would have considered having a South-South president. In the interest of national unity, the North-West producing the president again does not balance any equation in Nigeria. If we are talking about a president from the North, we should be talking about the North-East. I was offended that from the beginning, some people insisted that there would be a civil war if the man ran. They also insisted that they would create a problem if the man ran. And I said that Nigeria belongs to every one of us. So that was an issue to me.
Wole Soyinka had vowed not to support Buhari but a few weeks to the election, he asked Nigerians to forget the past and move on. Are you not being unfair to Buhari given the circumstances we found ourselves?
I said you only forgive somebody who repents. Buhari has never asked anyone to forgive him. So you are jumping into conclusion that we have a new Buhari? And the fact that he has won the election has not won him forgiveness. We are going to see if Buhari has changed. And I have said that if he has changed, he will do more than just wearing a suit. He will come out and apologise for things done and overdone. He said he took responsibility which is different from apologising. The man who admitted stealing a cow is different from the one who said forgive me for stealing a cow. Buhari is a very deliberate man.
I am not persuaded by the election campaign that Buhari is going to be a very competent president. I have not seen any competence in him. There was nothing in the campaign that was of substance that impressed me. No new ideas came from Buhari or the APC. Most of the people in APC are PDP people. So I am not persuaded that we are in for any new thing. But I hope you are right.
Beyond Buhari, you are also not a friend of Bola Tinubu. What are your reasons?
I wonder why anybody will be a fan of Bola Tinubu especially if you live in Lagos. He is not a democrat. I don’t like Bola Tinubu because he has monopolised Lagos politics. To some extent, Ekiti governorship election was lost because of him. I live in Lekki and every day I have to pay toll fare and I wish I was not doing that. APC is in control of the media to a very large extent. Governor Fashola has gotten an easy pass with the media.
It is easy for a Lagos State governor to be seen to be good because he has resources. In the light of the resources of the state, only 10 percent of the people have access to potable water, the same percentage has access to educational structures. In order for the APC to survive, the resources of this state had to be commandeered for political purposes. So, you can see the end justifies the means.
I think it will be foolish of Tinubu to take AIT to court over the Lion of Bourdillion case because if he does, the kind of things that would be revealed about him would be shocking. This godfather business is undemocratic. Let people choose their leaders. One person cannot sit somewhere and decide what is best for everybody. I don’t believe that elections are free and fair in Lagos. I do not believe that Jimi Agbaje lost this election. It was APC’s manipulation that brought out the governorship election result. That is my own opinion.
Not many Nigerians are asking Buhari to apologise. What exactly do you want him to apologise for?
It is part of my problem with the media at the moment. We are being given the impression that Buhari won by a landslide. Please let us look at what INEC declared. 12.8 million people voted for Goodluck Jonathan. So don’t assume that they don’t have their reasons or that the people that want him to apologise don’t exist. I maintain that it is very easy to say that we don’t want to look at the past because we want to look at the future. But we need to understand the past in order to move to the future.
So, Buhari needed to apologise. He needed to ask for forgiveness because he killed people through extra-judicial means, he jailed people for telling the truth, he kept people in jail even when kangaroo courts that he set up said they were not guilty. He manipulated the judiciary into jailing some people. I could go on and on. That is why I said that if we were a serious democracy, he would never have gotten away with it. There is a reason Buhari was not nominated by the northerners. They voted for Kwankwaso and Atiku at the primaries. Buhari got his candidacy through Tinubu. We don’t have to pretend that Buhari is well liked because he has won, it seems to be like that but we should know that he only has the plurality of 2.5 million votes.
In your penultimate column you claimed the emphasis on the alleged rigging was in the South-South and South-East, but the PDP was beaten in areas where they had strengths like Niger, Kaduna and other places. You think the resentment was not real?
I mentioned those areas as well. I mentioned Kano, Jigawa, Katsina and Bauchi. I said the results from these places were inflated. We have video recordings of underage voting. There is a problem with the election because if we accept what the PVCs are saying that 17.1 million registered for the election in the North-West alone, the zone will determine future elections. If they decide that they want somebody to be president, by the time we will be looking at the result and they will come up with 9.1 million from Kano, the whole equation would change.
What can you get from Imo and Anambra? So, if the North-West vote is more than the South-South and South-East, there is going to be a problem. There will be a problem if we don’t get the proper census of Nigeria. They used to tell us that Kano was bigger than Lagos. Jigawa was split from Kano and Kano is still supposedly bigger than Lagos. In this last election, about 3.1 million people voted in Kano and Jigawa. And 1.4 million people voted in Lagos. That is twice the number of the people in Lagos. I don’t believe these figures. If you do, fine. I am entitled to my opinion.
You said you don’t like Tinubu because of the reasons you adduced, but when the books would be written, it would be said that Tinubu contributed significantly to Buhari’s emergence as a democratically elected president. What do you make of that?
I don’t agree that Tinubu made Buhari the president. Let’s get the facts right. Tinubu made Buhari the presidential candidate of the APC. But in the presidential election, Buhari did not win Tinubu’s votes. And that is part of the problem. All the discussion before was that everything would be determined in the South-West, but Tinubu did not deliver the South-West. The margin of defeat in the presidential election was not much in Lagos. Tinubu, to some extent at the presidential level, is expendable. And that is the problem. You can actually not choose a president just from the North. It interests me that while the campaign was going on, all the northerners making noise that it was their turn disappeared.
They did not campaign with Buhari. The people campaigning were Tinubu, Amaechi, Fashola. I bet you that the northerners are going to come out come May 29. And you will see it happen. Don’t think that the people that had been clamouring for power to return to the North in the past six years, were doing that for Tinubu to inherit. I don’t believe that. They have an agenda. That is why I said the story is not told because the election has taken place, the story will unfold when the administration comes on board.
Are you saying that you are impressed with Jonathan’s performance?
Yes I am. I think APC ran a fantastic campaign. They hired Obama’s people and they controlled so many different things. So, a lot of things were simply propaganda. And part of the problem with the PDP was that they had it so easy for so long that they did not know how to campaign anymore. So, they thought that it was just going to be another cake work, and this was a different issue for them. Many of the things that Jonathan did, his people like Reuben Abati did not talk about it. People just did not know anything until some spirited efforts were made at the last-minute during the extension. That was when they now told people what had happened. But within the framework of Nigerian presidency, Jonathan is a good president if you compare him with others who had occupied that position.
You are talking about the North being the decider with the way things are now. What then do you think the South-East and South-South can do?
Within the framework of the democratic experiment in Nigeria, the North has been the part of Nigeria that has held the country together. The South-East is neither here nor there. The civil war is still an issue. The South-West doesn’t often show an inclination to take a national outlook. The North voted for Abiola. But the problem with this particular election is that we have an APC that is very sectarian in outlook. APC is not a national party like the PDP. APC is an aggregation of sectarian parties that came together simply to get power at the centre. And in order to do that, they had to distort the process. That is why I said that northerners were intimidated and told that they must vote for Buhari. And this is bad for democracy. When politics gets to the sectarian level, it becomes a problem. And we have allowed it to define and determine this election.
There was no level-playing ground. Buhari could go anywhere in the South and nobody threatened him, but anytime Jonathan wanted to campaign in the North, bombs will explode. We can’t say we are not aware of it. And this tendency will not help this democracy. But we must talk about it. Even though we will say that we are glad that we have missed the bullets of rioters, we need to talk about it.
The truth is that if Jonathan had won, there would have been conflagration because you have a party that only accepts victory. And there is nothing democratic about that. Buhari lost three times, he never congratulated the winners. Jonathan lost once and conceded defeat. Thank God for that. But if Buhari had won, we would have been in trouble. And democracy is not like that. It should not be like that. That is why people who say I am an intractable opponent of Buhari are mistaking my passion. Why can I hate them? In the final analysis, Buhari is now the president-elect, he is going to be my president because the people have spoken. We must ensure that the culture of our democracy is such that a party can field a candidate in the North and not be intimidated with all kinds of sentiments that are going to be introduced. So, this was, in many respects, a flawed election.
Looking forward, do you think this man has the capacity to do the job because many people voted for him because he is seen to be incorruptible? In your view, do you think this man will deliver on the expectations?
In my view, I am pessimistic. I don’t think Buhari can move the economy forward because he has no understanding of economics. I tell people that I am waiting for our currency to be equal to the dollar which is one of the things he promised.
One has to see who his advisers are. Again, one has to deal with his antecedents. If there was a change in Buhari, we should have known it in the last three months. It should have come out from his pronouncements during the campaign, but there was nothing there. He said he is going to give N5,000 to 20 million poor people in Nigeria and that is N120 billion which he is going to give away in a situation where the country is cash strapped. I am going to see how this is going to happen. Buhari does not understand how to tame corruption. He did not succeed the last time.
There are certain tendencies in the man that tells me he does not understand how to tame corruption because we are talking of a change campaign. But who are the people around him? They are not changed people. It is paradoxical that now, the party chairman is saying they don’t want defectors anymore. But how did they come to where they are? I don’t see these changes coming with Buhari. This was a rhetoric that was convenient for the purpose of winning an election. It has succeeded, but don’t let us ascribe more to it. It is going to have some grand gestures but, in the final analysis, will be meaningless.
Don’t you think Nigeria needs a strong leader that can look at influential people in the society and insist that the right things be done? It was so bad that even after the Immigration recruitment tragedy that the Minister of Interior, instead of being sanctioned, was given a national award?
That is not the problem now. Buhari is not the type of person that I would like to call my president. I don’t even agree that he is a strong leader. He is not very intelligent, he is not very articulate and I don’t even agree that he is a strong leader. Most of the positions he held, his deputies were in charge. People run circles around him. Part of the problem with democracy is that we don’t necessarily have the best choices. You have to choose between bad choices or some bad choices. I don’t see anything that will, ordinarily, make me to want Buhari as my president. I don’t see how he is an improvement on Jonathan for whatever it is that you think of Jonathan.
Are you not expressing preconceived biased. People are saying Jonathan saved the country from crisis but that he did not do us proud as president, a situation that Chad and Niger now assist us to combat internal security challenges. Are you saying that you have not recognised personal failings on the side of Jonathan and that you don’t see anything good in Buhari?
Buhari left the army 30 years ago; a lot has changed in 30 years. Maitasine were bow and arrow people. But Boko Haram is a completely different kettle of fish. And his approach to the campaign does not seem to recognise that. Part of the problem is that we could not run after Boko Haram so that the borders of Chad, Cameroon and Niger are not violated. And they only became receptive to that when Boko Haram became a problem to them. And that was recently. If we could have surrounded them, it would have been easier for us.
Why didn’t we?
We couldn’t because they could run into Cameroon. The issue about Nigeria is that we are such a big country relating to our neighbours. We have traditionally bent over backwards to tell our neighbours that we have no territorial ambitions and intentions, which could account for the fact that we gave away Bakassi to Cameroon. No country gives away its territory to another country. The tendency in Nigeria is not one that we will begin to violate the territorial integrity of our neigbours. And Goodluck Jonathan is not that kind of person. A situation where, in the middle of an election, Britain and America will begin to interfere does not mean well.
Isn’t that part of the president’s failure?
It is not. It shows you that they have been biased against this country. The Americans refused to sell arms to the government and the government had to go looking in other places. Boko Haram is a different thing. It took the Americans 10 years to get Osama Bin Laden.
But America violated another country’s territory to get him?
That is different. The government invited them and they got a United Nations resolution to back it up. It is so bad that when you read the papers today, you don’t hear about the Jonathan people. They have all disappeared. I am insisting on Jonathan because he is important. The voices of his people have not disappeared. We are going to come back and hold this government to task.
They have made all sorts of noise about Boko Haram, I want to see how Buhari, a retired general, would handle the situation. I want to see him destroy Boko Haram. I want to see how long it would take him. I want to see how long he is going to get the Chibok girls back. Ezekwesili has been making noise about that and I tweeted her to suggest how to get these girls back. We would see how Buhari will do the magic.
Does it mean that you don’t see anything wrong in Jonathan? The Americans say nice guys don’t win ball games. The president may be a nice chap, but his niceness diminished Nigeria’s standing and reputation. Don’t you think he was too nice for the job?
Jonathan has lots of faults. Jonathan had a peculiar problem. He knew that he could not win an election in Nigeria without the North because he is from a minority area. So he bent over backwards with many things.
That is why some of us were interested in his second term because then he would not need any of these people. Some people in the South-South said he did not even do anything in the South. Most of the things he did were in the North yet all he got were four million votes. There were a number of things he did for political expediency. If he fought insurgency in a particular way, people like Buhari would have risen against him. And if he did not fight insurgency, they would have said that he is incompetent. He had to play both sides and clearly the approach that he took did not work. It failed him but that should not prevent us from recognising the dilemma that he was in. He was a president that had his eyes on second term and he felt that he needed to placate some people but it did not work.
Do you think that it was politically savvy of him?
It was his prerogative to have decided not to even run. But he thought he was going to get the votes. In 2011, he got eight million votes from the North and Buhari got 12 million. In 2015, he got four million votes from the North. It was not unrealistic for him to still think that he could still get votes from the North. In 2011, Jonathan got 37 percent of the votes in Katsina. Given the fact that PDP had foothold in the North, it was not unrealistic for him to expect that he could still use the party structure and the governors to get an appreciable amount of votes from the North. But in a place like Bauchi, which is under PDP, practically no vote came from there. Jigawa is under PDP but it was like PDP was non-existent in those states.
However, our democracy is in trouble because the numbers have already been manipulated according to the pattern of PVC distribution. It was not manipulated for not just this election, but the next one. Therefore, we will have a situation where same people will decide again that the North will produce the president as long as we are dealing with these so-called PVCs. They have permanently ensured that one region has supremacy over others. Let us not pretend that it is not what has been achieved. So we need to address that now. We need to start talking about it now.
What is the problem with the PVC?
The problem with the PVC is that nine million people are registering to vote in war-torn Borno. Where are they getting these people? How are they getting 17.1 million people in the North-West? And 15 million in the South-South and the South-East. We have to determine who gets the PVCs. At the point of registering for the PVC, we need to know the nationality of those registering. We need to know if they are Chadians, Nigerians, children or adults. It is quite significant for me that these PVCs failed in the election in some places.
Why should the PVC fail in the South? Buhari did not have any problem of voting but the PVC did not recognise the number one citizen of the country. The failure rate of the PVC in the South-South and South-East was high. In the middle of the election, the rules of the game were changed and the PVC was not needed anymore. By the time we got to the governorship election, the PVC worked better. And I ask: Why did it work better? I believe that the PVC was programmed to fail.
Is this not just prejudice?
I wrote an article in Vanguard before the election where I said I don’t believe.