We ‘re gradually descending into a one-party state
Ruga policy meant to favour one ethnic group
Senator Suleiman Adokwe, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and a two-term senator from Nasarawa State, lost the 2019 Nasarawa South senatorial election case to the immediate past governor of the state, Senator Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, who ran on the plank of the All Progressives Congress. In this interview, he spoke on a wide range of national issues including the suspended Ruga policy, and the challenge of having free and fair elections among others.
By David Odama
His take on the 2019 election especially the Nasarawa South Senatorial poll he lost to Al-Makura
The 2019 election in this country was a major setback to the achievement that was made in 2015 by the Dr Goodluck Jonathan administration when elections were judged to be free, fair and credible.
All the gains that were made by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, headed by Professor Attahiru Jega have been eroded by the present INEC. And worst of all by the unfair and partisan contributions by the security forces of the country. The security became obsessed with regime protection rather than protection of democracy. And so there was brazing seizing of mandates everywhere. I was also a victim of such where people voted freely and their votes couldn’t count. We went to the judiciary believing the judiciary is the last hope of the common man.
Even INEC is part of the shady deals. It gave results at the polling units to deserving agents of the various parties yet at collation centres some not collated. The Electoral Act provides clearly that where there is unlawful exclusion of votes there are grounds for petitions. And the simple thing that the court was supposed to do was to return to those results rejected or not collated. And if they are not collated INEC is supposed to give reasons why. Is it that there was over voting there or what? In our case INEC didn’t state. They just said they were over-voting. They didn’t show it and didn’t prove it.
INEC didn’t do anything like that. And the tribunal turned the whole thing back to us. We have presented the results that INEC gave us. They are now telling us to prove that those results were authentic. How will we prove except somebody says the results are not from the INEC. But this is what we were given. So it was quite shocking. Since we have opportunity to challenge that judgement in the appeal court we will definitely appeal it.
My worry is that the tribunals across the country are becoming a rubber stamp to the official interest of government and the people in government. And that is going to kill democracy. It is a gradual build up to one-party state when our Electoral Act makes it very clear that we are a multi-party state.
I am so sad. I told my counsel that it is not longer interesting to practice as a lawyer. If you can put up brilliant legal arguments and somebody just reduces it to nothing, why do you go for arbitration if the results are predetermined? Legal practice is supposed to be very exciting up to the last minutes. People should be wondering who is going to win this trial because of the competitive nature of the system. But you can predict every judgement in this country now. Once you go to court and you mention the party, the average man on the street will tell you who is going to win and it comes to pass. That is a sad commentary on our judiciary. And they need to worry about it.
I am not saying this because I lost the case. But we know there were a lot of pressures. We were hearing it like rumours of pressures going on. The tribunal was courageous up to a certain point and they gave in to the pressure. And that is what they are doing all over the country. And that is not good for our democracy.
But we are happy that the appellate courts are fighting very hard to retain their integrity. And we are hopeful that the Court of appeal will look at the merit of our appeal and give us much reason we couldn’t be given judgement.
You had this scenario in the past and you were able to win your case. In this circumstance do you see yourself getting your mandate in the appeal court?
Yes! I see that happening because my case is a simple case. We just concentrated on our lawful exclusion where election concluded at the polling units and results given to agents. Those are the results we collected the certified true copies and gave in court.
In fact by the position of the law, once elections are concluded at the polling units the presiding officer cannot change it again. The only person that can change the result is the tribunal.
So we are very hopeful. It is one of the easiest cases you can prove because when you have the results and somebody has not entered them is the easiest case you can win.
His advice to his angry supporters
My supporters turned out in large number during the hearing and on the day of the judgement. They are disappointed and saddened. They least expected that judgement Even the people who were giving the judgement were stunned. They didn’t believe it either and nobody jubilated for or against the judgement
I stood for election for about four times. I have never enjoyed support like I enjoyed in the last election. Even people in the opposition party voted for me. Because Al-Makura’s eight years in Nasarawa State hurt many people.
He came into power within three weeks Nasarawa State was engulfed in serious bloodshed for all of his eight years. And since he left we have not heard a single bloodshed except the random banditry which takes place anywhere in Nigeria now. I am talking of the recent attack on the Deputy Governor’s convoy. There was no specific target. It was clear case of banditry which is happening everywhere. We thank that God police has traced them.
We appeal to our people to be calm, we are law abiding and we will pursue the matter to court of appeal and we will rely on the justices of the Court of Appeal to do justice to the case
I have absolute confidence in the judiciary. I believe that whatever is happening as I always say, the wicked can prosper but just for a while. At the end the truth will stand squarely and speak to the authority.
As a stakeholder, what is your take on the Ruga issue that has been suspended by the Federal Government, transformed into NLTP and embraced by the Nasarawa State Government?
This boils down to what I have been saying because the interest of the presidency is to establish Ruga and no community has been consulted. I have never been called by my community because at my age and standing in the society, I would be invited to look at the proposal to establish the Ruga or whatever.
My view has always been that there is no way we can continue doing open grazing because it is not practicable and feasible. The land is not just there, there is population explosion in Nigeria. And most of the routes that cattle rearers used to enjoy are no longer available to them because human beings have occupied those routes.
I am always of the opinion that these cattle have be put in ranches where both the animal and the people rearing them will be in one place and exposed to modern education and other practices of the modern society.
Secondly, it is erroneous to believe that it is only one ethnic group that has the monopoly of rearing cattle. Cattle are one of the laziest animals in the world. Even women are rearing cattle in their houses. When cattle is well fed, a little kid can push them around. So it is not rocket science to rear cattle. If you have a policy of developing cattle, sheep or goats, the policy should be for everybody that is ready to engage in it.
It is a huge industry that so many people can engage in if it is properly organized. But sentiments and motives of just protecting one ethnic nationality are hurting it in Nigeria.
If you go to Rwanda, it is one huge tribe but it was divided based on who rears cows and who do not own cow. But the President in reorganizing the country he made it possible for any family to have a cow whether you are Tutsi or the other tribe. So virtually everybody is rearing one or two cows and the collect milk from it. Before it was unthinkable to hear an Igbo man eating Towon Dawa or Towon Masara. But now everybody eats it. Northerners are eating Eba, just as Southerners are eating Towon Shinkafa.
So there is nothing that is reserved for any ethnic nationality. Why the Ruga thing has become so explosive is because everyone is seeing it as a policy to deal with a specific ethnic nationality.
However, the issue is how can we improve the rearing of cattle? And everybody that is interested should rear cattle. And if you are interested in it you should jump into it. Just like scheme are created for farmers and anybody can farm. Nobody thought that Fulani can farm. But I can tell you now that Fulani are great farmers.
My father has a Fulani friend that settled long time ago. Because they settled in one place, as part of my social responsibility, I built a block of classroom for them, I sank a borehole for them, I gave them grinding machines and it is a whole lot of developing community. And people come to see them as one of the villages in my chiefdom. Now, they are farming yams, maize, sesame and so many others crops you can think of. They are everywhere in the state doing that. You cannot say that no Fulani man should farm just like you say the matter of cattle rearing is reserved for Fulani people and Ruga is being created for them. That is segregational, divisive and unnecessary. Just develop the cattle industry and whoever is willing to join should join and work on it.
If Nasarawa State embraces the Ruga policy, I hope they have the land because some community will simply not accommodate total strangers. We know the Fulani that are in Nasarawa State for long. So where are you taking them to. There are a lot of Fulani in Nasarawa State, who are integrated with the people even to the extent of inter-marriages.
So what special scheme of resettlement are you going to do? And if you bring somebody that is totally a strange to that area, nobody is going to accept it. And those that are used to wandering there was a scheme in the past to settle them down it never worked.
It is just part of them to wander about. Until one day they will discover that they can’t wander any more. Because if you are faced with litigation left, right and centre about animal trespassing you have to find a way of settling down.
If you continue to allow somebody to carry gun and shoot people everybody is going to carry gun, then we will have a state of anarchy. If the government will not protect you, the security system will not protect you, you have to protect yourself. Everybody will get guns and then we will have a total anarchy in the country.