Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview with journalists, speaks on the latest developments in the party, his assessment of the 2019 presidential election, and other issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the just concluded 2019 elections?
This election cannot be likened to any previous election. It was unique in many ways. This is the first election where the bookmakers were off the mark in several respects. Not many could have imagined, for instance, that certain big name politicians could lose elections the way they did.
You saw what happened in Oyo State where Governor Ajimobi lost his senatorial election. That was one third of the state in which he has been acknowledged to perform so well. You saw what happened in Kwara State, where Bukola Saraki with his larger than life image lost practically everything. He could not win even his own ward. Under his watch, all contestants who associated with him lost elections.
You saw two sitting APC governors in Bauchi and Adamawa states battling to regain their seats as they faced questionable defeat from the opposition PDP. There are a number of issues we should pay attention to in this scenarios. One is the obvious and increasing sophistication of the voters. You could see voting patterns that showed the voters have become aware of their power to choose. You could see deliberate voting patterns, such that; in many states, the voters were targeting contestants with votes. In other words, you could see voters in a particular environment voting for candidate A in APC and candidate B in another party. What this means is that ballot papers are becoming instruments of political justice. Politicians can no longer take electorate for granted when they are in power. Voters understand the power of the ballot, more so; they understand that ballot is an instrument to punish political office holders they believe have performed below expectations.
Would you then say the 2019 elections were free and fair with the massive deployment of the police and soldiers?
I understand the fact that we would never appreciate the calamity we escaped because of the roles played by the security personnel. We can begin to question the deployment of the security agencies because we managed to minimise violence and saved numerous lives of innocent Nigerians that could have been wasted by desperate opposition politicians. It is normal for a patient to complain of the bitterness of the medicine after he has recovered from his ailment. Of course, it is easy to forget the magnitude of a disaster after averting it.
We owe the security agencies a lot of gratitude for their professionalism, their patriotic engagements with all the people and institutions that participated in the elections. But we must not forget that this was possible only because we have a President Buhari who showed uncommon statesmanship. This is the first time you have a President that was more desirous of guaranteeing the civic rights of the citizens than his own ambition for a renewal of his mandate to be able to govern for another four years.
This is contrary to the belief of the position. For instance, PDP would argue that President Buhari deployed the soldiers to intimidate opposition candidates across Nigeria to pave way for the victory of the APC candidates. You seem to disagree with this.
It is very shameful for PDP to accuse anyone, not to talk of President Buhari of intimidating voters or manipulating the electoral process. The records are there. All the elections conducted under the PDP witnessed brazen deployment of brute force. We witnessed open state sponsorship of violence against leaders and members of the opposition party. We witnessed outright disenfranchisement of voters in areas where PDP was unpopular.
How do you compare such a disgraceful mobilisation of state’s instruments of coercion under PDP as they forcibly foisted themselves over the country for those years of gruesome oppression of the electorate with the elections of 2019 under the watch of President Buhari?