Jimi Agbaje, two-time governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on latest developments in the polity and issues of governance in Lagos. Excerpts:
How best do you think the Federal Government should handle the case of Yoruba nation, agitator, Sunday Igboho who was arrested on Monday in Benin Republic?
Everything should be by due process. We don’t want a situation where we are becoming a police state where every measure of opposition is handled with a very heavy hand. The idea of chasing people around to me is not the best way to go. People run away from the law when they feel they will not get justice. If you feel that the way they even come after you is as if you are already guilty, then how can you get justice? For me, the Sunday Ighoho matter should be handled with due process. The Benin Republic government should do things properly so that we don’t have a repetition of what happened in the case of Nnamdi Kanu. Till today, we are not even clear as to how Kanu came into the country. But it is obvious that something is hidden and it did not follow the due process. That is why nobody has come out to tell us exactly what happened. We hope that due process will be followed in Igboho’s case. Everybody must feel that the law is even-handed. You are not guilty until so proven. Nobody is saying anyone who is guilty of a crime shouldn’t be prosecuted but justice, equity and fair play must be done and due process must be followed.
The Senate last week rejected the confirmation of Lauretta Onochie, President Muhammadu Buhari’s media aide as INEC commissioner. What is your take on that?
Well, I think that was the right thing to do. Whatever reasons they may have given for me is not the point at this time. The fact is that the National Assembly succumbed to the pressure from well-meaning Nigerians and even from the international community. I believe that is what strengthened the National Assembly to reject that nomination.
There are concerns that the President may re-present her for confirmation. Do you think that is possible?
I believe that if you look at the National Assembly on that day, like I said, the pressure is such that I’m not even sure I heard anybody supported her nomination when it was mentioned by the Senate President. It was a total rejection and I think that signal is very clear. If the president wants to help Lauretta Onochie, then they can find somewhere else where impartiality will not be an issue.
How will you react to the defections that have rocked your party in recent times, don’t you think it may impact negatively on PDP’s chances in the 2023 elections?
As general elections come, politicians tend to bring about self-interests in what they consider is in their own interests. The way it works normally is that the opposition party tends to lose membership at the beginning. Whereas, defections will also play out in the ruling party but because it is about self-interests, those in the ruling party still enjoys benefits which is the consequence of their defection. That is going to play out also as we get nearer the election where you will find that from the ruling party, people will also begin to defect. If you look back, that has been the trend. So, at the appropriate time, some people in the ruling party will also defect to the opposition. Of course, that is not to say that the PDP doesn’t have a role to play. The PDP must look inward and see how to hold on to their existing members and get more members to join the party. That is the way forward for the party. So, defection generally is for self-interests and if you look at those who have defected and the excuses they have given, you will find out that it has to do with self-interests.
The Southern governors few days ago issued a communiqué where they expressly stated that the Presidency must come to the South in 2023. Are you in agreement with them on this?
They didn’t say it must come to South. If you look at their communiqué, they said it is the turn of the South to produce the president in 2023 based on the principle of fairness, equity and peaceful co-existence, it should come to the South. It is not a shotgun demand. They are saying ‘we believe in Nigeria and equity. So, for that reason, the North has had its own share of eight years, then in that spirit, it should come to the South. It is not a take it or leave it arrangement. No, that was not the impression I get from their communiqué. Their communiqué was very clear and all those things they listed was based on that principle.
Coming to Lagos, are you impressed with the performance of the current of the current government in the state?
For me, I have always said that when you assess Lagos, you cannot be doing so compared to other states in Nigeria. Lagos is one of the mega cities of the world. Therefore, the way it is expected to be assessed is that it cannot be compared to other states in the country. The best way to assess Lagos is to look at the development indices that Lagos has been assessed on. Those indices are out there. When you talk about indices of the worst cities to live in the world, indices of developments and so on. So, for me, the indices are there for everybody to see. Lagos has a lot of work to do to be able to hold its own as one of the mega cities of the world.
Will you be contesting for governorship again in 2023 or have you given up?
Let’s put it like this, I think the state of our nation at this point in time, I am more concerned that things are not working as they should in our country at the moment, especially when you consider the issues of insecurity, poverty level and unemployment. I believe that our first challenge is how to hold our country together. In this part of the world, they said when trees fall on one another, you remove the one at the top first. That is my attitude at this point in time.
As for the issue of Lagos governorship, I think the first thing we should do is to get a lot of people out to come and vote. In the last governorship election in Lagos, only 18 percent of the population came out to vote, according to INEC statistics. It was the lowest in the country.
What was responsible for that poor figure and how can it be improved upon?.
We have cases of intimidation of voters, ballot snatching and other things that discourages the electorate from coming out to exercise their franchise. People must believe that their votes count and that is very important. That is why things like electronic transmission of votes begin to help, when you know that your vote counts. But if you have an impression that the actual figure will be different from what will be transmitted, then you don’t bother to come out. Also, good governance is very key. If people vote and those voted failed to deliver democracy dividends, then you will discourage them from voting in future elections. I think what matters is that the process must be open, transparent, free and fair.
Do you think the National Assembly handled the issue of electronic transmission of results well?
No, they didn’t. They have not shown that they are interested in deepening democracy in the country. I can’t even say now this is exactly what their decision was. I think it would have been better if they have fears, they should leave it to INEC to decide whether it is applicable or not. If you have a situation where there is 90 percent coverage, you don’t because of 10 percent throw out the entire system. At worst for the 10 percent, you can do manual. I strongly believe they should have left it to INEC as an autonomous body to decide whether it is possible or not.