By Yinka Ajayi
Dr Doyin Okupe served under former President Olusegun Obasanjo as Special Assistant on Media and Publicity and later under President Goodluck Jonathan as Senior Special Assistant on Media And Publicity. In this interview, Okupe speaks on the siege laid to the National Assembly by the Department of State Security (DSS) and the insistence by the National Chairman of the ruling party at the federal level, All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, that Senate President Bukola Saraki should vacate his seat after defecting to the opposition Peoples’Democratic Party (PDP) among other issues.
What is your view on the siege laid to the National Assembly?
There are no two ways to describe it. It was pure treason. When you take over an arm of a sovereign government unlawfully, it is treasonable. It was a subordination of democracy itself, a terrible act of fundamental principle of separation of powers which is a pillar of democracy. Many people may not be aware that what differentiates a military regime from democracy is the Congress that we refer to as the National Assembly. In a military regime, we have the executive, we have the judiciary but we don’t have the Congress. But the Congress is a sacred institution that you cannot violate. What happened is a rape and it is condemnable, absolutely intolerable and should be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians including the government itself. It is a slap on the face of this administration. It is confounding. First we’re told that the DSS did not receive any authority from the Presidency. So, whatever situation would lead to the Director General of the DSS invading the National Assembly without the knowledge of the Presidency is catastrophic.
But the Presidency’s immediately sacking of the DSS DG, is it not commendable?
That is what I am saying, while it is commendable, the underlining cause of that move is frightening because the sacking of Daura was because he committed that treasonable act without the order of any lawful authority. What made the DSS assume that role without fear and executed it is what we should worry about. How did we get our system to that level, how did it happen? When something bad happens in the system, those who keep saying the President is not aware, like when people are killed on a large scale in Benue, I mean the managers of information in the Presidency who keep saying the President is unaware are giving the President a bad name! The President is elected to run the country. When things go wrong, we go to bed. If you study the evolution of government, citizens submit their sovereignty to the authorities headed by an individual, and that is the head of government. When we submit our sovereignty to you, we should be able to go to bed with the belief that you are in charge. If anything happens to us and you say you did not know, that means we are in trouble! That is the sadness of this matter. It is good that the Vice President immediately intervened on the National Assembly invasion but deep thinkers must ask, how did it happen, the President was not aware, the Vice President was not aware? What kind of government are we running? And to make matters worse, the Inspector General of Police came up with almost a ridiculous position, telling Nigerians that he had investigated and he found out that the DSS boss colluded with certain politicians. That is a shameful statement, it is a statement that should never get to the public domain. It equally means that, in the future, the DG of the NIA can also collude with a foreigner and subvert Nigeria and the Inspector General of Police can also collude with some other people! This is what sensible patriotic citizens must be thinking. It is beyond what we are seeing on the surface. With this, you cannot draw a line between the position of the Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiohmole, the position of the Inspector General of Police and the position of the Presidency. So you begin to wonder what exactly is going on.
But how did we get here?
It is the same question I sincerely ask you too because I don’t understand . By the grace of God, I have been in government twice. I do not understand. I do not comprehend it and people must be concerned. Instead of analysing the situation critically, we are distorting facts, saying it is the leadership of the legislature that made a coup on the National Assembly when we saw clearly that what happened was the exact opposite. People that are talking have forgetten that the social media is in existence. Gone are the days that Nigerians had to wait till 9-10 pm to watch the news of national events and happenings. As it was happening, we saw the event, it is absolutely impossible for the event to have been staged. Many people who are in the position of authority today, maybe because they are not too educated, they assume that most of us they are leading are also not educated as well. Most Nigerians are extremely civilised.
Are you saying that the view expressed in the report of the IGP to Acting President Osinbajo that the DSS siege on the National Assembly was staged is wrong?
How can you justify that? Juxtapose it with what we saw. They are now asking why no APC senator was there. APC senators live in different places. Why is it that all of them were not seen anywhere? Did they phone each other? Were they gathering somewhere? There were video clips that showed they were gathering somewhere in Maitama area of Abuja. We cannot have deception as official policy of government.
With the massive defections, there are claims that the PDP has unruly elements whose aim is to destabilize the Buhari administration and the ruling APC. What do you make of this?
Defection is a political move that happens everywhere in the world. Government is different from political parties. The game political parties play to outsmart each other is a different ball game. It should not be seen as a move by the enemy.
But are such moves and ideology good for our democratic system?
It is not an ideology! It is a practice you have all over the world. In Britain, in the last five years, 60 members of their parliament have crossed from one party to the other. I wonder why in this part of the world we make it look as if it is something strange. In India, parliamentarians recently left one party for the other. The incumbent President of France, Macron, was a member of the ruling party, he was a federal minister, he left the ruling party to form his own party. He contested for the highest office in the country and won. So why are we bothered about defections! We have to be cerebral on some of these things because there are too many unpalatable arguments you hear from the quarters you do not expect and it is extremely embarrassing that the Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiohmole, said Senate President Bukola Saraki should resign or be removed. Such statement is very unbecoming of a man of his position. It is embarrassing that Oshiohmole will consistently hold on to that view. I don’t know what evil befell the APC that made them to bring an uncontrollable charlatan to become their Chairman, and he is saying things that cannot be backed by law. The Constitution is quite clear on this. For you to remove the Senate President, you require 2/3 majority of senators which is sacrosanct, and the argument that he was not elected by the whole house does not hold water. The process of election is different from the process of removal; everything is clearly spelt out in the Constitution. The Chairman of a ruling party cannot speak in an unguarded manner! Because you are coming from the labour background where rascality is the order of the day, governance does not condone rascality. It a game of the noble and not rabble-rousing and filibustering. There should be a spinach, some sense of decency, not just verbose, unruly, unguarded statements coming from the leadership. It’s shameful.
But what about those calling on Senator Bukola Saraki to vacate the Senate Presidency on moral grounds?
There is no morality in political position. On moral grounds, will you tell the President of the country to resign because he promised so many things and he has not fulfilled them? It is not done anywhere! You can resign your position if, for instance, you found out that the Senate President was involved in a mafia position; that will, in a way, cast a slur but the erroneous thing that is making people talk about moral grounds is because they feel it is compulsory that the Senate President or the leadership of the National Assembly should come from the majority party. It is a fallacy. We saw a good example in the Second Republic when Honourable Ume Ezeoke of the NPP was the Speaker of the House of Representatives while the NPN was the majority party. Ignorance is a major problem in Nigeria because our people fail to read and to study history to know their past and the contemporary development in the world before making any profound pronouncement. It is pathetic!
What does this portend ahead of 2019?
I do not want to be the devil’s advocate. I want to hope that there would be a presidential election in 2019, and it will be a keenly contested election but my position is, I am not an APC fan and, definitely, I do not wish that APC wins. I will join forces with other parties contesting against the APC . If we lose, the game continues. It is not personal. If I oppose you, it is not because I hate you. It is because I want your seat and I also want to serve. It is a lawful, competitive exercise. People should not look at it as a personal assault that they want to unseat them. If they did not unseat people, how did they get there? But it cannot be by all means or at all costs. Politicians must agree to the minimum standard to which we can behave. In my own understanding, you can campaign, propagate manifestos and give the promises of what you intend to do; the day you go to the polls and people thumbprint the ballot paper, that is the end. After that, the will of the people must prevail.
How do you see Senator Bukola Saraki and those in opposition to his continuation as Senate President?
Bukola Saraki inadvertently has become a symbol for the defense of democracy. In recent times, he has become the defender of democracy. Because if an attempt is made to subvert democracy, instead of keeping quiet, the courageous man steps forward to resist the subversion of our democracy. He could have recapitulated, cowardly and allow anything that goes. He could have set a bad precedent; instead, he steps-out, stands firm, resists anti-democratic forces and, by chance, he wins. I see him now as the defender of our democracy. Besides, what is happening has become like Adams Oshiomhole and APC versus Saraki, Nigerians and God. And, like everyone knows, it is not in the character of God to fail.
How do you describe Saraki’s meeting with about 34 leaders of different political parties?
I heard they came on a courtesy visit. The 34 political parties are impotent to do anything about democracy except they now see a defender of democracy. So they are gravitating towards him and to also encourage him to keep on with what he is doing.
What is your charge for this administration ahead of 2019?
The new DG of DSS, when he was making his inaugural speech, said they were going to review human rights abuses. That already tells you that something wrong was going on before. So let us rewrite all these wrongs by restoring human rights like the case of El-Zaky Zaky, Colonel Dasuki among others. Let us comply with court orders by being a progressive country. All parties must adhere to the rule of law. Let us go back to the basics. The fight against corruption must adhere to the rule of law. For instance, I obey a police officer because he is wearing a uniform but when the police officer does not operate according to the law, why should I obey him? This government must correct all the wrongdoings that we had before now and restore human rights and contain all anti-democratic forces within their administration and that includes putting under control the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiohmole, because the man has become a loose cannon that can burst anytime over his obssession with the idea that the Senate President must go. If you want to remove him, do so according to the law. And the need to strenghten our institutions cannot be over emphasized. Man is temporary but institutions are permanent. Let us encourage institutions to work properly. Above all, like the Americans say, “Security agencies must be neutral in all areas of conflicts and exposure”. It is so important because without it we cannot go far as a nation.
The Presidency is insinuating that this is a battle between the good and the evil. What do you make of the suggestion?
It is correct. The good is everywhere. The bad is also everywhere. I totally agree but the location is where we cannot determine because we have the good and the bad in the Presidency, we also have the good and the bad in the opposition. In essence, we have the good and the bad in the APC and the PDP. There are the good and the bad in the legislature as well as in the judiciary. It is a correct statement but it goes beyond that and the only way we can get over it is to uphold the rule of law. Once we allow the rule of law, it is either the bad withdraws its evil or he gets punished for it.