Election violence has become a serious issue in many countries, including Nigeria, and the youths are often the most affected by such violence as they are the ones who are most likely to be used as tools of violence by politicians seeking to gain power. Violence during elections has led to the loss of lives, destruction of property, displacement of people, and general disruption of social and economic activities.
In this interview with THE WHISTLER, George Ehusani, a Catholic priest and Executive Director of the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, Abuja, spoke on various issues bordering on Saturday’s general election, including the significance of youth participation in the electoral process and the outcome of the election. Excerpts…
What do you think is happening in Nigeria?
There is a new awakening in Nigeria, especially among the younger generation who have borne the brunt of bad, corrupt leadership over the years. Many people were born into a country that has just not been working and many people are beginning to realize, especially among the younger generation and the younger crop of elites, that Nigeria does not need to be here, and that we could be much better, we could be a Dubai, Singapore or China and that the obstacle has been leadership.
Especially since the EndSARS, October 20, 2020, and the tragedies that occurred, there has been a renewed interest in governance because the young people thought at that time that by demonstrating on the streets, they would have a leadership that listens and they would list to their cries that “we have been dying at the hands of this brutal police (officers). Instead, they were crushed violently with what happened on 20th October 2022 and they were reminded that “look, if you want to lead, go into governance or leadership. So, when politics now came, of course, we still had this skepticism that the same names are coming up — Tinubu and Atiku and so on and so forth — and a lot of young people didn’t take it seriously because it was business as usual. It is the same people that we have been recycling. What’s the difference between APC and PDP? From 1999 till today, they move to one party the next day they move (back). And there is really nothing that holds them with any sense of principles, ideology, and least of all, the common good.
However, due to faith, there was a move — Peter Obi moved from the PDP and joined the Labour Party. So, something happened when Peter Obi left the PDP and joined the Labour Party. People all of a sudden, not just in Nigeria but all over the world…you saw the simultaneous rallies on Saturday, and they were not induced with any money. People have spent their own money, and sacrificed their time (and) in Lagos people got brutalized but they didn’t mind. The kind of people who never used to bother about politics. Look at the personality of Aisha Yusuf, the Hijab wearing young woman, is that the kind of person that used to be at the forefront of politics in Nigeria? This is the first time when that profile of a young educated woman would be at the forefront and on the podium, campaigning.
What crop of people did we use to see on the podium campaigning? Male, older with Agbada. Now you have jeans-wearing young people who are on the stage campaigning, with celebrities singing. So, something has suddenly happened in the last nine months. Because this whole movement is a matter of the last nine months, that every town that this man called Peter Obi and Datti have gone to, people have trooped out. Even in the most unlikely places. So, I believe that there is a new awakening.
The older politicians have continued that ethnic and religious bigotry, they have continued to get people through “it’s our turn” or “no, North must rule” or all these kinds of nonsense. But I think the young people are more enlightened now and they are getting involved.
Well, as of today, we do not know what will happen in the next few days in terms of who will win the election but whoever wins the election, it’s not going to be business as usual. Because if Atiku wins, his government will not be the way the government was run before because you now have eagle’s eyes of young people who are politically savvy and aware, who know what chapter 2 of the Constitution says about their fundamental rights and what the responsibility of government toward the citizens should be, young people who were not born in the era of traditional feudalism. You, see the older generation, we were born during the traditional feudalism that was just giving way to the British. But these young people are born in a modern democratic era, who know that the leaders are our employees and that the employers are the people.
You can’t enslave these young people anymore; no they won’t take it. Because they’re in Lagos today, tomorrow they are in Los Angeles and next tomorrow they’re in Taiwan. They see how other places are governed. A video went around recently about somewhere in Canada (showing) the snow and ice. Somebody leaves Nigeria that is 35 degrees centigrade and ends up somewhere that is 25 degrees centigrade, below zero, and they are beginning to say “why do I have to run away to this kind of place, why do I have to run away from my warm place that has a lot of resources?” They know that every square meter of this country is full of resources and then they are going to be washing plates in restaurants in the U.S.? So they are saying no more! And they have my support to say no more.
Do you think Obi is different from the other candidates?
It is not about Obi, this is now a people’s movement, Obi is just a figurehead precisely because Labour Party had no structures and Obi had no structures. That’s an advantage for the young people because if he wins the election, Obi cannot say I won the election because I had money, I mobilized people, No! People spent their own money, people donated buildings in different parts of this country as offices for Labour Party. Who knew about Labour Party before? LP only won election in two states before — Edo and Ondo — and those people decamped. So, the Labour party hardly had anybody anywhere. In fact, that has become an advantage for young people. So, this is not about the people. He (Obi) cannot afford, if he wins, not to be a listening president because he was put there by the people, not with his money, not with any structures, and not by any party bigwigs. The traditional parties — PDP and APC — have powerful stakeholders in all the states of the federation, down to the wards, to whom they give money to mobilize votes for them. Those are the structures we have put aside now. For those who are working for Peter Obi, those structures are not important.
Isn’t it instructive that not a single one of the five governors in the South East is openly for Obi? Is that not important? What it means is that if Obi wins in the South East, it is not the political structures that have been existing in the region. That will now show that this is the people’s movement. What we’re having is some form of revolution, a quiet one, where those who have held the people down for the last 63 years are being ignored by the people now and the people are beginning to evolve a new system. So that the people called Peter Obi and Datti are just a figurehead to say, you lead. Because every revolution needs a leader, you need to be able to rally around one person, So when you hear them say Obi! Obi!! Obi!!!, it’s not about the person, it’s about “it’s time for us to wake up, you go for us”.
If Obi wins, it would shake things up. If Peter Obi wins, he’s not going to find it easy but they will shake things sufficiently that it is not going to be business as usual anymore. I even said if Peter Obi does not win, it is still not going to be business as usual. Do you think with the awareness that has been created now, we can have any emperor that comes as a dictator or anybody that comes like a money bag that he wants to ride roughshod? It is not going to be possible because of the awareness that has been raised in Nigeria in the last 9 months, we never had it in the last 60 years, down to the level of security guards and cooks.
For me, if Peter Obi and Datti do not win, if Atiku or Tinubu or Kwankwaso wins, it cannot be business as usual (because) these same people are going to drag their feet to the fire of democracy, they are going to insist that there are certain kind of governance they can’t take.
About eight months ago you expressed concern that elections may not hold as scheduled. Do you still hold that view?
Well, it’s a long time between then and now (May 2022). Then the level of violence, killings, and kidnapping was high and I made the comment with all sense of responsibility because there were too many things that were unsure and the horizon was very cloudy.
It was in May/June that Peter Obi emerged and when he emerged, it gave the people some level of hope, so their anger has now been channeled toward participation in politics. What you see on the street is that people are creatively channeling their anger. The kind of anger that led to destruction during the EndSARS (but) this time instead of leading to reckless destruction, people are channeling it elsewhere.
Do you foresee post-election violence?
My only fear is, I hope that if their (the youths) candidate does not win, they don’t resort to violence.
The expectations of young people are so high that I am afraid that if their candidate does not win, the EndSARS kind of reaction might happen. And this is why I have sent emissaries through our project called the Grassroots Sensitisation Against Election-Related Violence to Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Kogi, and Kaduna which are among the states that are charged.
We sent them to go and gather and work with at least 100 people and plead with and send them to the grassroots to ensure that they promote peace. So, we are working to preempt the youths to prevent violence.
I’m telling people not to worry that if your candidate does not win, our suffering cannot be the same as the last eight years because people are now enlightened. Even the people who came to power, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the various Houses of Assembly with the old kind of structure cannot continue to govern with the old kind of structure because young people have become enlightened.
You can only continue to oppress our people the way you were doing before because of the lack of enlightenment. This means that the whole illusion that we have 12 million or 11 million votes in Kano and we will deliver (is no longer possible). Nigeria is no longer like when you deliver a whole village as they’re a packet of something that you deliver, Nigerians have moved on from there. It is also not possible for somebody like Tinubu to think that he can deliver the whole of Lagos because he is the chief of Bourdillon.
“And also, we shall see in the East. As I’ve said, all the political heavyweights in the East are not on the side of Peter Obi, officially. But you will see that the young people who are the foot soldiers are not with them. So, this election is going to show in many areas that some of our political bigwigs are losing their grip on the people and many of them (the people) are also aware that if they born this house down after this election, they are the ones that will suffer.
So, I will ask everyone in political, religious, and social elites to help talk to our young people to say “look, if you burn this house down, you are the ones that will suffer it, therefore if you don’t win, please be patient because it is only for four years. They can go and strategize before the next four years but please don’t burn the house down because there is life after the election.
Are you confident that the ideal kind of leader Nigeria needs will emerge on Saturday?
As of today, what the indications are is as if the three major candidates are almost on the same level. So, nobody can say as of today (February 21). However, if it is these senior people that have been used before to win a lot of these elections, what I see now, I can almost say that 75% to 80% of these young people are on the side of the new movement. But we know that there is still a lot of ignorance. We have a lot of people who are not educated and who will answer to ethnic and religious sentiments. So, that is one we must acknowledge and that’s why at this stage one cannot say. However, in politics, five days is still a long time. If we were dealing with an enlightened group, the election is already concluded.
Look at the ruling party, look at how they’ve messed themselves up in the last two weeks. See how much Nigerians have suffered. Who in his right senses will vote a party when the president and governor of the central bank are not together when the presidential candidate and the ruling president don’t seem to be together when Keyamo is saying one thing and Fashola comes out to say the opposite? The Supreme Court says one thing and the president comes to say another. Then a governor under APC’s government will go and want to overrule the president in a national broadcast. In a saner clime, that is treasonable.
Do you think the naira redesign policy is politically motivated?
Sadly, government policies are not supposed to be made to punish one person. Government policies are supposed to be for the generality of the people. If they think that a particular politician has tons of money, they (the Buhari government) should have found another way (to deal with that). Why are the EFCC, IPPC, and Code of Conduct Bureau there? Unfortunately, governance is so weak in Nigeria, otherwise, are you saying the movement of money in Nigeria cannot be monitored and controlled? But to stop a few politicians who have loads of old Naira to influence the election, changed the currency and you change the currency without bringing enough new ones to go around.
On the hand, they claimed that they want us to go cashless. You don’t force people to go cashless, you use inducement in form of reduced bank charges. That’s what other countries do. How do you collect over N2 trillion from the market and print only N400 billion and expect it would get down to the remotest villages? Meanwhile, this 400 or so billion that they printed went to the same people that the policy was designed to prevent from having money.
Is Buhari setting a bad precedent by allegedly disobeying the Supreme Court?
Has it just started? President Buhari has consistently violated court orders. In El Zazacky’s case, Nnamdi Kanu’s case, and many such cases he has subsequently violated court orders. Unfortunately, the lack of rule of law in this country is spearheaded by the person who is supposed to protect the rule of law in Nigeria. So, this Naira swap is just one in a string of incidents of violations of court orders that Buhari is guilty of. So, it is not just setting a precedent, it has been part of the character f this regime. Or is it El-Rufai that is trying to get the court to get Buhari to obey that has not consistently violated court orders?
So, we are looking forward to a government where the law would be supreme, where are looking to have a real change where those who lead us will respect the law and we are also looking forward to having courts where those who constitute the courts are truly above the board, where we don’t have a situation where the fourth person in an election is proclaimed the winner because that has been a sore point in the hearts of Nigerians.