Adebayo: I’m Out for Constructive Criticism of Tinubu Govt

Presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party in the 2023 general election, Prince Adewole Adebayo, in this interview with Folalumi Alaran, vows to keep President Bola Tinubu government on its toes with constructive criticisms for it to deliver on its promises. He also berates the Independent National Electoral Commission  for the poor conduct of the recent off cycle gubernatorial elections in Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa states.

You tried but failed to win the presidency during the February 25, 2023 poll. Where do you stand now politically?

What stands for me is to make sure that the government get full and maximum support of the citizens, and at the same time, we give them criticisms regarding so many errors they are committing, as you can see now. It’s one error or the other every day.

We criticise them to correct those errors. And we organise our people to have a culture of democracy. That is why we work very hard in Kogi and other states. We will keep working to ensure we give our people an alternative.

We must not be demoralised in the opposition whereby everybody will run towards the ruling party.

What will I do now with all the frustration.  Will I go and join APC, which I don’t agree with, because 99.9% of their policies I don’t agree with. I won’t.

So, we will continue to be where we are in the opposition, but we will continue to be loyal to the country and respectful to the government and then ensure that the system works. That is all I am about now.

Democracy that is supposed to allow citizens to have maximum choice seems to throw up bad politicians.

People are not in it for democracy. They are in it just to get power for their own self-preservation and use. Even people who co-run institutions like INEC and the rest of it,  are just there for the job. Look at the recent appointments made by our president, which was cleared by the senate. You will see that there are politicians, people who have shown desperation looking for power. These are the people who are called to adjudicate election for people. It’s like a boxer who has a record of cheating and bad behaviour and you make him a referee. Or a soccer player who has a bad record of doping cheating  and fixing matches, you can’t make such a person to be FIFA official. Those are the things causing problems for us. It is not as if democracy is too difficult to grow on our soil. It’s just that the desperation is all around. Now, in INEC, we need to rescue that institution of appearance of actual cases of desperate people who see it as money making venture who go in there to turn off system and not make them work, who can even come to you as politicians to say that they have 55 way approach not to make this thing work. If you pay us, we will do it for you.

So, we must ensure INEC works. While we are still alive, we must have a government we believe in such that you can have a guarantee that when you contest election, you can lose and win with the firm belief that the system has been fair and done according to the law.

Election is a business for some people because that is where they make their money. Even when you go into litigation, some people turn it into business.

What would you do differently to help turn things around, especially around the challenges you enumerated?

Three things you need to do. Firstly,  you need to have good political parties. May be parties that look more like SDP, where people do not want to break the law. You could see that nobody has accused us of doing anything wrong.

Secondly, you have people in institutions who are patriotic, who go there to serve, just to do the right thing. Thirdly, when things go wrong like this, we don’t condemn the entire system. You come out to pinpoint errors that we can correct.  We, as SDP, we are saying whatever we are complaining about because it is not just to grab power at all costs it is to make sure we finetune the system and correct the errors. Those are the things we can do.

There is no country that will not have the kind challenge from time to time. People who don’t deserve to be in certain offices, you will find them there. They will start to misbehave, but we must not throw away everything. Pinpoint where the errors are, shame those that need to be shamed, and remove those that need to be removed and correct what needs to be corrected. What has been done to the SDP now, they will not see the end of it until we get justice.

What is your take on the off cycle elections in Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa states?

The issue for me and the SDP is that the elections raise more questions than answers. INEC appears contradictory. The elections are quite simple because they are just three states, not 36 states, and they have narrow constituencies. The states are not big states. There is no Kano, Rivers, or Lagos and all of that. Bayelsa is just eight Local Government Areas. Imo is just a little more. And Kogi is just 21 Local Government Areas. It should be quite easy.

What we are having now is a situation where before the elections were conducted, there were some result sheets flying around to which INEC attention was drawn and they issued a statement. Then, accreditation took place, and by INEC’s own record, accreditation was being uploaded by BVAS to IREV. So, using those figures as at the time INEC was decorating results, INEC’s result was contradicting what they have on the IREV. And we brought all of this to INEC’s attention.

Our agents at the polling units were surprised and aghast to see that places where fewer people showed up had magical numbers at the end of the day. What we have done  was to bring this to the attention of INEC, in compliance with the law because despite all of the problems, the position of the SDP is to believe in the legal system, to believe in INEC, to believe in law and order of this country.

So, we wrote to INEC that we need you to review this because most of the national commissioners were not in Kogi.

Definitely, the INEC Chairman was not there. We, too, the leaders of SDP, were not there, but these were the reports we were getting. But all we got from INEC was a press statement that suggested that the figure we saw which some of them had complete on their own system were not final figures, that even after the results had been declared, their IREV was still using their own language, synchronising several days after that.

This does not bring credibility to the system, and the aim of the SDP is to assist Nigeria and Nigerians in getting the government of the people by the people and for the people. It doesn’t mean we have to win every election. We are not concerned that we win or we didn’t win. We are saying that the system must work. The institution must work. And INEC has a window between now and next seven days after the elections to review this process, otherwise, what we are having will just be a system where people take it for granted that INEC is not serious about electioneering, it  is not serious about credibility as it is there to wasting everyone’s time. That is not a good story to talk about INEC.

We are open minded and we have submitted to them an opportunity to do what is right within the law which is to review what happened in each of the states particularly for us in Kogi State where it is evident that even from INEC contradictory reporting that everything went wrong that could go wrong there.

Recall after the general election you said you weren’t going to court even though you claimed the three leading parties APC, PDP, and Labour, cheated in the election. Are you taking the same approach about the Kogi election.

This time, I am not the candidate, but he is our candidate.  We supported him. We worked with him, and he himself said INEC was transparently dishonest and disorganised and that there was no point for him to go to court. The party has met and has reviewed things. The people, everybody who voted for us, and supporters within and outside Kogi all said let us give INEC an opportunity.  What we are doing now is to believe in INEC, hoping that INEC itself believe in democracy and want a country that works and being an entrance institution into government, we want to make sure that INEC itself  allows politicians who come to power to know that institutions must work.

So, INEC will review it. But if INEC refused to review it, then, we have the option to go to  court, and I think the party at the national level,  Shehu Garba, our national chairman, our national secretary, Dr Olu Agunloye and members of the NWC have said they are going to court and we are working towards that. Again, we are doing our own review with an open mind. We are not desperate to win. We want to win within the law. We are not out taking the opportunity to throw a shot at INEC. We went into the election with a victory speech or a concession speech. Either way, we are okay. But we found out INEC’s announcement of the result is not in compliance with the law and with the regulation set by INEC. For that reason, INEC as a commission is by law given an opportunity like before where someone could do anything in their name and say sorry, so bad, we can’t do anything about it.

Under the new electoral act,  INEC has seven days to do a review and we are giving and assisting INEC  with all information to ensure they listen to other people, including the observers, and I believe INEC should review it. If the review is done properly and thoroughly, even if the review doesn’t favour us, we are SDP, we are law abiding party, we respect the country, we will abide by it.

But if it is not done or poorly done, we would take extra step in calling on the judiciary to intervene and look into it, and we are making sure that we narrow our claim to the judiciary things we are sure of.

You are talking specifically about Kogi, I believe…

Yes. For us, we have serious problems with Kogi. Not only us, other people have. I have heard of similar problems in other states, but we are focusing on Kogi now. Even the governor of Bayelsa State, who has been declared the winner of the election, still said that in some parts of his own state that the BVAS was bypassed. So, if the governor  and the winner of the election also have that observation, then INEC should know that what we are all trying to do is to better the lot of all of us. We are not saying INEC is hopeless. We are not saying so. I believe INEC is a human institution and a necessary  institution, and I have confidence that there are good citizens who work in INEC.

So, I have no problem with INEC but I have problems with INEC process with which they derived the results in Kogi State and we have taken every step to warn them before the election day, to warn them even about the irregularities, about the voters register ab nitio.  They said they were going to look into that. We warned them about disloyalty about many of the operatives, and they said they were going to look into that.

In the course of the election, we brought to their attention so many irregularities like over voting, fictitious results, and things like that, the returning officer, a certain Professor, was highly uninterested in additional information. He was even threatening to have our man removed. So, he returned the mic to him and said we shall inform INEC officially.

Now, we have written a two-page petition to INEC clearly stating what happened, giving INEC all the options and citing the law  that enables INEC to do a thorough review and we have not heard from them since Monday when we gave them the letter. There was no telephone call, nothing till now, no reply.

We believe that we need INEC. Whether you call it by any name, you must have an electoral umpire that people can believe in.  Nigeria is not unfortunate that we cannot have 20 people who can not run elections in the commision. We can not be that unfortunate. We need to have confidence in the system, and there is no alternative to democracy. We tried every bad alternative  and every good alternative, and we ended up coming back to this same electoral system. I want Nigerians to believe in INEC, in government, and to believe in democracy  and the only way to do that is to continue to interrogate INEC however difficult it may be to raise this question in order to ensure that we get it right.