Senator Smart Adeyemi is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation. In this interview with journalists, apart from speaking on the chances of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in the February 2023 election, he touches on some critical aspects of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, as it concerns same faith presidential ticket and others. Excerpts:
How possible is it for President Muhammadu Buhari to append his signature to a new electoral amendment bill a few days before the election?
You should understand the concept behind the amendment to the electoral act. It is not to undo what has been done. As it is today, you cannot go to the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC ) to withdraw anybody’s name. The time for changing names or substitution of candidates is over. However, we are trying to look at this: putting in place a legislative provision that will make it compelling for political parties to take into consideration, the sentiments of Nigerians.
As lawmakers, we have the responsibility to make laws for the good governance of the country, not just for good governance but laws that will enhance the peace and unity of the nation and by extension, a nation where people will be united and live in peace.
After Shettima emerged as running mate, a lot of apprehension and fears by the Christians came up. Some Christians have to refer to Abiola and Kingibe and said the situation at that time which made Christians not talk about it was that Nigeria was not as troubled as it is today; the insurgency, banditry and other problems that emanated from Boko Haram were not visible. Today, Churches have been pulled down and of course, quite several mosques and Imams have equally been killed.
But in politics, people look at probably what concerns them; they don’t look at what the other person is talking about. So I felt there was a need for us not to allow religion to be an issue. And the major thing is to give confidence to all the major faiths in this country. The problem we have today is there are leaders but they don’t know this country. They know Nigeria from the angle of their communities, and zones and visit some cities, but mine is different.
No one can tell me that Christians are more than Muslims or that Muslims are more than Christians. I just read a book written by a white man. He talked about religion in Nigeria and he said Nigeria is made up of half Christians, and half Muslims. And I think he is very correct because people speak out of ignorance. There is no state in Nigeria I don’t know. I don’t want to go into the percentage of Christians and Muslims in each state. But if there is going to be any religion that will be more than another, it won’t be more than five per cent. So Christians and Muslims are well spread. But I think we don’t require that. Nobody cares about who is the President as far as there is freedom of religion. What we have experienced in this country, is when you seem to see domination in appointments or contracts, people tend to be apprehensive.
If you throw up one inadequacy in the current act, people will begin to point out others and seek a plethora of amendments. Take the issue of diaspora funding for instance. Have you considered this?
It’s just one or two lines that will be added to it. The amendment is not seeking to reverse the train that is already on track. We are talking about the next dispensation. The proposal is not about Tinubu or Shettima. Laws can not be retroactive. It is futuristic. If you commit an offence before a law is in existence, you will be judged by what was available at that time.
What we are proposing is an order to ensure the peace and stability of Nigeria. Because in this country, you have a large army of pastors and Imams who probably have no jobs. So they look for opportunities like this to ignite problems so they can be seen to be championing their faith. I love this country and I don’t want Nigeria to break into pieces. I want to see Nigeria where there is justice, fairness, and equity; where whatever is good for the north is good for the west and the east.
I want to see a nation where everybody will be proud to say I am a Nigerian. This can only happen when there is fairness, equity and justice.
APC deliberately zoned the presidential slot to the South so that there can be peace. And that is why some of us have remained in the APC. The northern governors came together and said there was an agreement that power should rotate to the South. Well, other parties are having problems now because they don’t believe in the unity of Nigeria. For the Northern governors to come together to say all aspirants should concede to the South, I think they deserve commendation.
If you look at Tinubu -Shettima, the two of them, have something to offer. For you to assess an individual, you first of all look at his antecedent, what people think about him, and what he has said about himself, and then you conclude. The antecedent of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to me, has the credentials required to govern Nigeria. He succeeded in setting the governorship structure in Lagos where Christians and Muslims rotate governorship, where Igbo, and Hausas hold political positions in Lagos. It’s where you see a non-Yoruba person being a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly. And this is what we need in Nigeria. We need to cement this country together. For me, Asiwaju laid the foundation. Nigeria requires more than ever before unity, fairness, diversification of the economy, and safety of lives and property. These are the things required in Nigeria today; he has paid his dues. He was in the trenches fighting for this democracy. There is no aspect of leadership that Asiwaju is lacking.
If you look at Shettima, I have known him for 13 years now. He is a highly intelligent person, highly cerebral. I don’t see him as a religious bigot.
Don’t you think people are having this conversation about the same faith ticket against the backdrop of the kind of disconnect thrown up by the Buhari administration in terms of appointments and others?
I don’t have the statistics to agree with you but let me tell you that I do know that if we Christians are skeptical, we have reasons to be skeptical but not for Tinubu and Shettima. I think the skepticism is for the future. The fear is if this continues won’t there be a situation where you have the same situation you are seeing that would be very bitter for them to swallow and that is why I am putting the amendment across. The amendment is to forestall a situation where this can be abused. I can tell you that Shettima didn’t lobby for this position. So I “m trying to see that the situation does not get to where there will be a breakdown of law and order.
Religion is a mystery. So when you see what is capable of threatening the unity and peace of Nigeria, as a lawmaker, you have a responsibility to try to save the situation. So this amendment is not for this dispensation. Primaries have been concluded, INEC deadline for substitution of candidates has passed, so we cannot do that now; it’s for the future.
Will the Electoral Amendment Bill be signed after the election?
If the law is signed, there will be clarity. This bill is without prejudice to all elections conducted before this bill. Whether it is signed today or in the next two months, it has nothing to do with the already passed primaries and selections that have been made. Laws cannot be retroactive. It isn’t like a military decree that can be backdated. You can rather put a law in place and project when it will commence. Don’t forget, when you have any serious amendment, there is a public hearing. In the case of the electoral act, it is the National Assembly that will decide. Everybody wants peace; without peace, there won’t be economic prosperity, and Nigeria won’t be secured. We are having insurgency with banditry and now we are having religious problems, it shouldn’t be. We must put laws in place to save Nigeria from future problems.
As politicians, there are things we do out of enthusiasm to get the job done. We may have an oversight. But if there is oversight the first time, it is tolerated, the second time and then people are apprehensive, we have to avoid it next time. When people read the constitution, they read the content of the constitution, but they don’t read the spirit of the constitution and that is where the electoral act comes in. The Electoral Act is to further explain the spirit of the content of the provisions in the constitution.
What is your message to Christians today on this issue?
My message is very simple. That I am not against what the Christian community is saying. They have every reason in some instances but be that as it may be, we should not allow this to destroy the fabric of the nation. Those who are speaking, have every reason to speak on this issue. But what I know is that some people don’t know this country, if they do, they won’t have the fear that one faith will come and overrun another faith. No nation can survive a religious war and we pray it shouldn’t happen in Nigeria.
Some people would want to feed fat on controversial issues like this. The problem with this country today is that people make the mistake of assuming that politicians are leaders. Politicians are not leaders. A leader is a man, even though not elected, his conduct, and his commitment to a particular political entity is that of peace, justice, and fairness.
What do you think will form the bedrock of the APC campaign?
I do know that this government succeeded in the area of infrastructure by way of roads, railways expansion, dualisation, and efforts in repositioning the economy. But all these have been beclouded by insecurity. Initially, people didn’t know that Boko Haram is a war that is beyond Nigeria. The insurgency is being bankrolled by foreign nations who don’t want Nigeria to prosper. Have you imagined the literates who are in this squad of terrorists how have they been acquiring their weapons, how are they trained? You will come to terms that Nigeria is being fought by some nations of the world who are more advanced than this country. Those are the people sponsoring the insurgents.
So the party’s leadership is looking into it. It will make its position known on the thrust of the campaign. But which of these political parties have national acceptance? It’s the APC. Why is it that the APC insisted on zoning the presidency to the South? National unity. Why was it difficult for the PDP to zone the presidency to the South? Insensitivity doesn’t matter to them. I want to appeal to those aggrieved in the PDP to cross over to the APC. APC is the only truly national party that is available today. We all know the two dichotomies – the North and South.
There is a crisis in the APC. Presidential aspirants who contested against Tinubu are not on the same page as him and some governors too. What do you make of this?
The party will get to them because there is still time to hold consultations and bring people on board. The election, we still have about five months ahead. Everybody wants to be part of the APC because that is the winning party.