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Adewole Ebenezer Adebayo was the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the just concluded general elections.
A first-timer in politics who single-handedly sponsored his party’s campaign led his party to appreciable showings with two Senate seats, six House of Representatives seats and many state Houses of Assembly seats in the elections.
In this interview, Adebayo says Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu won the presidential election because he had the most experienced politicians in the polity supporting him even as he dismisses the petitions challenging Tinubu’s election at the tribunal. According to him, he has learnt his lessons but, like Judas who betrayed Jesus, there are a lot of pretences in politics.
What are the lessons learnt as a first-timer in politics and presidential election?
There are many lessons learnt. Life itself is about lessons. It makes you know yourself better; you know when you are more resilient than you thought.
You become more self-aware. You know the limits of your strength. You are able to know the country in relative to what you thought the country was. You understand human nature better and you appreciate politicians better, especially those who have succeeded in politics because, when you read about Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Osadebe, Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa, among others, you can question why didn’t they do this, why didn’t they achieve this? But when you are in politics, you see how challenging leadership can be, such that you have to give about 500 talks or speeches at different fora and you realize that you can’t give 500 speeches without making one mistake and it is that one mistake that people talk about. I now understand party politics and management better. As stated, I learnt a lot.
It’s a lesson of a life time that academia cannot give you. You cannot substitute political experience with any experience you have outside politics.
How disappointed are you about the elections generally, after all, it didn’t go your way?
Yes, I am disappointed in every way because I should be president-elect now, because when I set out, that was my expectation. But, I am happy that the country has not lost the opportunity to have a peaceful transfer of power from one president to another president. So, I am disappointed I am not president-elect. I am disappointed in the process as every of the participating agencies fell short which makes it look as if we didn’t take all the opportunities that could have been taken to better our politics. We now have opportunity to interrogate our problems and let the people see the consequences of their choices.
If given the opportunity again in 2027, and with the methodology used during the election, will you vie for the presidency again?
Life is dynamic. I am a not highly experienced politician. But the only thing I will not lose is myself. I will use a methodology that is legal. For example, if you say there is a way by which you can buy votes, lie against people or bribe INEC officials, I will not join you. However, if there is any way one can do the campaign better and get the buy-in of the people into your idea, why not? The candidate who had the most experienced politicians supporting him is Tinubu.
What about Atiku?
Atiku’s peak was 2011. People can have double peaks. Another one was 2015. But the most peak of his political career was in 2019 due to Buhari’s absenteeism in the presidency due to ill health and Dark Age decisions he was making. But in 2023, it was quite competitive. Right from the party, a lot of the people didn’t want him. PDP’s natural constituency didn’t want him either. PDP’s natural constituency has always been South-South, South-East and Christian enclaves in the North and Middle-Belt. He had controversies such that he was contending on all fronts.
Politics of PDP is that of money. There are still more volunteers in APC than PDP. Somebody that wants to be made governor in 12 years time will be doing something for the party with the hope that in 12 years time, he would be on the queue. But for PDP, it is cash and carry. There were more people willing to give money than to take in 2019.
PDP lost power in 2015 and, since then, they have been out of power. But they were sustained by the second layer of the party which is the governors who are the electoral college of the party. What he did was fight the electoral college. He said it himself that he fought the governors but Peter Obi chickened out, but it was a pyrrhic victory. He won the battle but lost the war.
You said Tinubu had the most experienced people supporting him…
Yes. Somehow, he managed to keep most of the governors with him, even those who were hostile to him at the beginning. I encountered a lot of people in the course of the campaign who said “We like you but we are stuck with our man”. But, you as a presidential candidate, even the sub-total of your efforts is not up to what the people are doing on his behalf even if he is somewhere in France hanging his leg. They were still very active.
Like in Jigawa, whatever I was doing, the governor would come and undo it. I am not sure Tinubu was aware of what I was doing there but the governor there was enough. Every time I thought I had put something down in Jigawa, I will get one bad news shortly after.
If somebody was working for me, within a short time, I get the bad news that the person had defected to APC. Like a senator who was a strong pillar of my campaign went and declared for the APC and even gave up his senatorial ambition for them.
I am just letting you know that people can pretend. When the Labor Party collapsed in the entire North-West, they said they didn’t like Peter Obi, and they came to us saying they wanted to join us, but I didn’t think it was wise to encourage brinkmanship in politics. Maybe it was a mistake on my part.
Apart from the SDP not challenging the outcome of the result, you were the first candidate to congratulate the president-elect. Besides, you seem not bothered about the whole process. You are not sulking like others.
Well, I don’t know what the people were expecting but I know what leadership is. I come from a royal background. If there is a vacancy for the Osemawe kingship (Ondo), it will be delusional to think that the kingmakers will pick me. That you are from a royal family is not a guarantee that you will be chosen as king. It is not automatic. It is an opportunity to apply to serve. It is not an entitlement.
The fact that over one million persons are clapping for you as you move around should not be taken as an entitlement. Anyone who runs for an office knows that you may or may not get it. I knew it was a 50/50 chance from the beginning. However, I lost as is the case. I asked, what happened? One of the reasons is that the system itself is bad. The problems didn’t just happen during the election. I saw it before the election.
I came to offer solutions to the problems of Nigeria and to show what competence, character and pedigree can do. I started seeing these signs from the electioneering time that our people are not ready yet because the political parties were not showing signs that they want free and credible election that could lead to good governance. All I did was to pay attention to my own party to see that we minimize such tendencies in our party.
SDP had the most peaceful convention, no litigation. For someone who contested against many people in the primary and none of them went to court against me, rather, they joined me in the campaign, why should I insist that if I lose, I must go to court?
The participants in the election including those who are complaining now, which is their right to do, did a lot of irregularities.
Whatever they complained about now, they also did it. In their petitions at the tribunal, they cannot point to the winner of the election as the cause of those things. I don’t have to have animosity against the winner. It’s a like a vehicle having 18 people in it, it crashed, the driver died, you were injured and some other people got out unscathed and you are now blaming those who came out alive as the cause of the crash.
You cannot say because the result was not uploaded and so it is this particular candidate that stopped them from uploading it. And one other complaint in their petitions that the person was not qualified to contest, as a lawyer, it is nonsensical.
You cannot say in law that somebody who is qualified to contest is not qualified to contest. I don’t have problem understanding what 25% of 2/3rd means in Nigeria. I am not a dunce.
Are you saying the Abuja factor in the whole brouhaha isn’t an issue?
That is just a comical relief. I don’t do things for show. The area I have genuine complaint is the area of bribery of voters. That, I think, is very bad. And in the area of the INEC staff helping to change result in some places, that is also very bad. If you look at it, it is not as if the person that won did it more than others. If you look at the legal limit of finance for campaign, they all exceeded it. I came to change politics. There is a limit to which I want politics to change me. People are already used to bad behavior for a long time. And, so, if you say you are in politics, people just assume.
If you say you are joining the police, it is believed you going there to take bribe. You can be a politician and not be bitter, desperate and dishonest. We look at narratives in this country from the negative point. People have told me that “you stood out. You look different”. I am not different. Peter Umeadi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, spent eight years as Chief Judge in Anambra State. From 1997, he had been a judge. He was a member of the National Judicial Council. He is a professor of law. He didn’t go to court. I am not surprised that he didn’t go to court because I know how decent he is as a person.
May be because there isn’t anything to fight for…
If you have respect for the legal profession, and you belong there, you will know the limit of what you can do. If you see decent people from decent backgrounds like Malik Ado Ibrahim, he hasn’t gone to court. And I am not sure Rabiu Kwankwaso filed any petition, he hasn’t. Only three or four of the 17/18 losers are in court. But, you never can tell, something good might come out of it. But I can guarantee, all the petitions filed will be dismissed. When you go to court, you should present to the court something that makes sense because the court is looking for a criminal conviction.
His (Tinubu) is a civil case. I am an American lawyer and I have done this type of case over the years. The time Tinubu will know I am not his friend is when he begins to exercise his presidential powers because whether he complies with the laws or he is meeting the expectations of the people will be the next stage for me.
I have gone past the issue of the election. But from 1963 to date, we have not had elections that people are happy about. (Mahmood) Yakubu will not reign for long. The one that will come after him will be worse except we go to where the problem comes from. When people were pillorying Maurice Iwu in 2007, I was one of the people that came out to defend him, asking Nigerians what could he have done? Yakubu is worse than that. The next INEC Chairman will be worse than Yakubu except we return to the actual problem.
What is the problem?
The problem comes from the fact that there are some decisions taken in 1998 that the military should go and that we wanted to have civilian rule. Yes, we were able to achieve civil rule. But we just refused to be democratic. Two things were achieved by that effort though. We were able to have tenure fixed, unlike the military. The second thing is that we were not going to be sitting down and be ruled. You must come to us to seek our votes.
But, there are other things attached to it that we ignored. While it is within the military that you have the coup plotters, the political parties, unfortunately, don’t have where to train politicians. With this scenario, you have politicians who are empathic about issues affecting the people they are serving and who are interested in leadership skills. Unfortunately the parties are not democratic.
The parties are just set up by the elite in such a way that they are not bothered about the people. The Chairman and Secretary can then determine whether someone who joins the party on Monday can then become their candidate on Tuesday to contest. So, the first and the most important agency is failure on its own which is the political parties. And in the case of the APC and PDP, it is the person with the deepest pocket that gets the nomination.
What do you think is your singular failure in the election?
My most singular failure is the fact that the people I was speaking to didn’t come out to vote.
May be I didn’t do enough of that or maybe I didn’t have the organisational and logistical background.
You said none of the petitions by the failed presidential candidates will succeed. Are you saying there are no grounds at all?
I know the law, that I know can’t be taken from me. I know election practice. I have done it. You can go check Law Report. A judge, unlike most people think, isn’t aware of the popularity of your candidate. What the court is aware of is that INEC as an election management institution is asked to implement the Electoral Act and the Constitution.
You have to come out and show to the court that INEC violated the Electoral Act and the Constitution in a way that, substantially, not little, it violated the Electoral Act and Constitution. You can tell the court that the election is not valid at all on the grounds that it was full of malpractices. If it is not valid, the court can set it aside to go and do it again.
You can also tell the court that it validly conducted (the election) but failed in mathematics in terms of what number is awarded to each of the candidates. You cannot say the election was not valid and at the same time say you got more votes than the others.
Again, it is not every error that you see that would matter to the court. If they go to 1, 000 polling units and kill 1, 000 people and still brought results from the PUs such that the INEC Chair could be fired and even prosecuted but the court will not set the election aside because the court acts according to the law which says substantial compliance which, if it is so, the entire results would have been contaminated.
If a ship carrying 176 passengers sinks and one person dies, will you say the captain should not sail again? If 176 students write an exam and one fails, will you say the teacher failed? Can that issue in the election affect the outcome of the entire result? That is the issue.
Talking about methodology, you single-handedly funded your campaign. In the future, will you change to crowd funding?
I want to de-emphasize money politics. I don’t like the issue of crowdfunding because it has legal and ethical problems. You cannot collect money from somebody you don’t know. We must be careful. If somebody likes us, he can print posters for us and paste them into his or her ward.
Why must he send us money? People in Diaspora wanted to send us money. I told them no because you have to comply with INEC regulations and things like that. I know Labor Party also did that. Good luck to them. Money in politics is the most dangerous thing. That’s why in the UK, they do public funding of election.
It’s like saying if you had bought expo, you would have done better. Still, it’s not a good thing. I think 100,000 votes obtained honestly without bribery, cheating and undue influence has a better future than those who collected money from all sources, domestic and foreign, including enemies of Nigeria.
Is that why you are advocating for ethical revolution?
Yes. That’s why I think those rejoicing that Tinubu has won the election are rejoicing pretty prematurely. It is only when their pregnant wives go to the maternity ward for C- section and they survive it because good medical care is there, that’s when they have won. You are rejoicing that you have won and big pothole is somewhere on the road that you are probably going to die of, so what have you gained? Majority of those who will travel on the 2nd Niger Bridge will not be APC members but they would get more victory from Buhari than those saying Sai Buhari, Say Baba everywhere. Anybody who enjoys train ride, that is if they are not kidnapped, will be enjoying the benefits of politics.
Those fighting or the Obidients in Lagos will not go to the Obedient hospital when they are fractured but Lagos hospitals. Politics is not the way they are playing it. It should be an opportunity to serve and to get the best person. That is why I am interested in who the weakest candidate is in politics.
That’s when your politics has mature because a country is successful where the weakest of the candidates is still good enough as the best. In the course of engaging issues during the campaign, there are many areas in which I was convinced beyond doubt that I was the best candidate, but I didn’t have a feeling that being the best candidate in my head entitles you to people head to force them to vote for you. During the campaign, one of the closest persons to me carrying my messages all about was holding another party’s flag and flyers.
I was curious and asked if she had changed camp. She gave me the best answer. She said she liked me as I was her best candidate among all “but I cannot vote you”. She said “this person paid my school fees and got me a job. I owe that person that one vote”. But I thought I was trying to create a country where you wouldn’t need anybody to get you a job. On the eve of the election, many people working with me would call me, asking esoteric questions that I found interesting, mystical questions. They were asking if I had a name that could be found in the Bible.
But I didn’t know the essence of that question. It was later a lady decoded it to me that one Pentecostal pastor said they should vote for the person whose name could be found in the Bible. But, interestingly, I have some of the most beautiful names in the Bible but I refused to tell them. Like others who have names in the Bible, like Peter, my senior brother, whose name can be found in the Bible, his name is bad because he betrayed Jesus.
Sowore has a Christian name in Steven. Steven was stoned to death. So, when you take all that into consideration, you will know that people voted for various reasons.
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