Archbishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, has said that Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is not yet Nigeria’s President until the courts have finished their job and declare who is Nigeria’s president.
The former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in this interview with Saturday Sun, also said Tinubu is obviously labouring under a very serious liability of questionable legitimacy.
In an interview with AIDOGHIE PAULINUS in Abuja, Onaiyekan x-rayed the fight against insecurity, war against corruption and the fixing of the nation’s economy, among other issues, giving a damning verdict that “we are still where we have been for the past ten years.”
What are your views on the activities of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu since assumption of office?
Honestly, it is difficult to have any views on the activities of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu since in my own opinion, he is not yet our president until the courts have finished their job and declare who is our president. He is obviously labouring under a very serious liability of questionable legitimacy.
You said Tinubu is not yet our president until the courts have finished their job. But Tinubu was sworn in on May 29. He has been taking decisions that are having impact on Nigerians, whether negatively or positively. Are you saying that no one is in charge? Are you saying that no one is piloting the affairs of the nation?
The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with the Electoral Law based on it, clearly makes provision for post-election petition tribunals. Candidates for election commit themselves to accepting the result of the election as declared by INEC, which is the agency of government with the authority to conduct elections. But the candidates are also told to take any grievances to the court if they are not satisfied with the decision of INEC. Right now, this is what Atiku, Obi and others have done. It was also a point strongly made at the two highly publicised declarations for peaceful election made by political parties at ceremonies anchored by the National Peace Committee before the elections.
I take all this to mean that the declaration of results by INEC is not final. It is subject to the adjudication of the courts, which may either confirm or reject the declaration of INEC. It means that until the court gives a final judgment on a disputed election result, the election process cannot be said to be concluded. A swearing in ritual of any candidate still being disputed does not change this fact.
Therefore, it is my position that a president sworn in under our present circumstances is at best holding office in a temporary capacity, until his status is confirmed. If and when the court confirms him, I will give him my full loyalty. But if and when the court disqualifies him, he should immediately quit office. This is not an empty hypothesis because, de facto, it has happened with some governors in the states. The tribunal processes in the courts are therefore not a mere formality with no consequence. It is true that practically all the previous presidents have taken office with cases pending in court. That, so far, all were eventually confirmed does not mean that this will always be so.
This is why I fully agree with the Uwais Committee that all court cases should be disposed of before swearing in anybody at any level of government. This is the case in most countries – even in Africa. There is of course the broader issue that our electoral law should be drastically redrafted to ensure that elections are held with minimum rancour and controversy, again as is the case in most nations. Nigeria must move forward.
What is your take on the removal of Godwin Emefiele, Abdulrasheed Bawa, Service Chiefs from office? Will their removal improve the security situation, the economy and the fight against corruption?
The removal of Emefiele and Bawa is different from the removal of service chiefs from office. I understand that the service chiefs have served their tenure and normally have to be changed. As for Emefiele and Bawa, there are allegations against them as we can now see. Whichever way it goes, people in these positions are not supposed to be there forever. It is supposed to be good for the nation that they are changed after sometime. As for the security situation, the economy and the fight against corruption, we have not seen any move in any direction that is taking us out of the woods. We are still where we have been for the past ten years.
What are your views on the removal of fuel subsidy?
We were told the problem of fuel subsidy is that some few people are stealing a lot of money from Nigeria under the pretext of bringing in subsidised fuel for the people. There is also the allegation that a lot of the subsidised fuel is going outside to other countries; our neighbours. This means that we are subsidising corruption and the fuel needs of our neighbours. If that is the problem, I believe it is a problem that should be solved, not creating new problems by totally removing subsidy. By this, I mean it should be possible to determine who are those abusing the system of importation of fuel from abroad, those people who are alleged to be short-changing the nation. In other words, tackle the corruption. The other part of tankers of fuel crossing the border to people in Cameroon, Niger and Tchad; the answer is simple enough. What do we have border police for? Why do we have the Customs and Immigration Services? We should safely secure our borders and make sure that our subsidised fuel stays with us. These two things; tackling corruption and securing our borders; are what you normally expect of any serious government. That this has not been done so far, and is not even being tackled by Tinubu’s administration, in my humble opinion, means that we are not yet serious. We have seen now the result of removing fuel subsidy and now we are looking for panic measures to limit the pains, which unfortunately is not forthcoming. The debate presently about the so-called “palliative” is just a case in point. Have we forgotten that “palliatives” are drugs we give to terminally ill patient to save him from unnecessary pain while waiting to die? Is Nigeria terminally ill?
Is the students loan bill signed into law by President Tinubu in order?
I don’t know whether it is in order. What I do know is that people have subjected the bill to careful analysis and it has been found that it would not help poor students who are in need of assistance. Obviously, the whole thing has to be looked into again. Unfortunately, every good policy in Nigeria ends up being hijacked and ambushed by corruption. This is one of them.
Are you satisfied with the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), particularly in the last general elections. If no, why?
I am not the only one who is not satisfied with the performance of INEC in the last general elections. And that is why a heavy case is in court. We hope that the court will clarify this matter. As far as we saw, there were too many irregularities. The reports of practically all the election observers and monitors, local and international are almost unanimous on this negative verdict; that we have done a terrible job. And I believe that this was deliberate, not by accident or by any technical hitch. There was a deliberate decision not to allow the will of the people to prevail because some people must win by all means. This is the problem of Nigeria. In other words, we are pretending to run a democracy where it is the people’s will that prevails. But rather, we use all kinds of means, by whatever means to capture power. It used to be done by the soldiers with the guns. Now the so-called politicians are using all kinds of manipulations to frustrate the will of the people. We can continue to pretend that all is well. For as long as we continue to pretend that all is well when all is not well, Nigeria will not move forward. For the sake of the poor masses and for the sake of coming generations, we should at some point stop deceiving ourselves, do things well, do things right, for it is not true that you cannot have free, fair and credible elections. It is happening in most countries in the world. Why is it not happening with us? Because a few people have hijacked the system. But we are not giving up hope. We believe that eventually salvation will come.
Are you of the view that the INEC Chairman, Prof Mamood Yakubu, be shown the way out?
He is the one responsible for the election that has not measured up to expectation. If someone does not perform well, there is no reason why he should continue in office. I am sure Prof Mamood Yakubu might do a better job back in his classroom as a teacher. In any case, I do not know why we should always be looking for professors to run our elections. We should look more carefully at what kind of people and expertise we need for organising an election in a country as big as Nigeria. Must it be a professor? Why can’t we think of people who are more competent in the legal department or some very highly skilled administrators or even business people? We hope that with the battle we are in now, Nigerians will agree that we need to review completely our electoral system. This should start with the composition of the INEC to make it truly “independent” of government and the ruling political party.
Some parties are challenging Tinubu’s victory. What are your expectations?
My expectations don’t matter. What matters is what the court will decide.
Are you ok with the performance of the election tribunals so far?
We do not know yet what the elections tribunals are doing. So I am not able to access their performance. By their fruits, we shall know them.
What are your thoughts on the demand by some for government of national unity?
The idea of government on national unity has its own parameters and rules. It is not a trick that one springs unto the nation in order to, as it were, escape from a bungled political situation. Rather, it is what happens after a free and fair election and the political arena is such that the political parties among themselves agree to share power under certain clear conditions, based on the results of the election. It is only then that one can talk of a government of national unity. Before then, elections must be free, fair and credible.
Security challenges have resumed after a brief lull and has continued unabated in Kaduna, Benue, Plateau, Zamfara. Why the fresh killings again?
The security challenge is all over Nigeria, not only in the states that you have mentioned. We are still waiting to see any major change in security in the nation, with the swearing in of a President who has a serious case in court. The truth of the matter is that this problem is serious and only a President with the full loyalty and confidence of the people of Nigeria can really tackle this problem.
What is the permanent solution to the challenges?
Simple. Have a good government – and it is possible to have a good government. And a good government must start with proper political parties, that will run on the basis of ideologies and that will not be based mainly on manipulations and the powers of money bags and so-called “god-fathers”. It has to be political parties that are democratic, both in their formation and operation. Then can we have an election that is free, fair and credible, and the rules of the game must be applied and be complied with. For as long as we don’t do all these, the challenges will remain as we are having them now.
What is your view on El-Rufai’s bombshell on Muslim-Muslim ticket across Nigeria for 20 years?
I have nothing to say about this. This is El-Rufai’s own opinion and he is entitled to his opinion. He probably wants Nigeria to become an Islamic nation, ruled according to sharia. He can say so if he likes. But the only thing good is that now that he has expressed it, we now know where he stands. But I hope he knows too that there are many Nigerians who thoroughly disagree with him. And if we are in a democracy and we don’t have a dictatorship that will impose a government that is not in the interest of the people, then El-Rufai and people like him can continue to dream whatever idle dreams they like.
In what ways did the policies of the Buhari regime aid the insecurity in Kaduna, Middle Belt and South East?
I really don’t know what to say about that. All I know is that the policies of Buhari regime were disastrous. Not in the interest of peace in Nigeria and economic development, not to talk of security. What we have now is still not the answer to our question. The struggle continues.
The elections are over, but the disunity in the country continues. How can the government unite Nigerians?
I am sorry to say that your first sentence is questionable. The elections are not over. It will be over when the courts have finished their job. Then we can settle for whatever the court decides. And it is only around such a decision that the nation can try to forge a unity. One would hope that whatever government emerges after that would be a government that would realise that the problems of Nigeria cannot be solved only by a political party and their members.
All hands must be on deck in Nigeria if we are to successfully tackle our serious national predicaments. The good news is that there are enough of good people within and in the Diaspora to rescue our nation and put us on the road to true greatness.
What are your thoughts on allegations by Asari Dokubo that military officers steal 99 per cent oil in the country?
The guy made this statement publicly before everybody in the world. The military authorities threatened to deal with him if he did not name names. We are still waiting. If he does not name names, we want the military officers to deal with him. Otherwise, they are all playing games on the nation.
What are your words of advice for President Tinubu and the new governors?
For the moment, I have no words of advice for President Tinubu. I only pray that God will save my nation and liberate the oppressed and take care of the poor in this country.