Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele contested the June 21, 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State on the platform of Labour Party, though unsuccessfully. Before his defeat in the country’s most controversial election, he had served as national publicity secretary of Alliance for Democracy, Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State, and later, chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Budget and Research in the seventh National Assembly. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, Bamidele speaks on the reconciliatory process to reunite warring factions in the Ekiti State chapter of All Progressives Congress and President Muhammadu Buhari’s anticorruption campaign, among other political issues. Excerpts.
What actually happened in Ekiti State in the run-up to the 2014 governorship election?
I will not like to state my personal opinion about Ekiti election or why some of us lost the election to the Peoples Democratic Party. Unfortunately, we gave away that election. It was not that we lost the election. In this case, I am referring to all members of the progressive family in the state. We were once known as the Alliance for Democracy, the Action Congress, then Action Congress of Nigeria, and, finally, All Progressives Congress. At the time we were contesting the 2014 election, we were known by different names. Some of us were known as APC. Few were known as Labour Party. Others were known as the Social Democratic Party. For me, it was a whirlwind that did not blow anyone any good. It was a major setback for the people of Ekiti, who felt disappointed for so many reasons. Today, I am happy to say that we are going through a reconciliatory process. Our glory is never falling.
Our glory is rising. We are in that process of rising again. One thing that has become obvious is that no individual or group could do it by himself. It has become obvious that our strength is our unity. The only way we can best serve our people is to come to the reality that it is no longer about any individual or group. It is about our party. It is about our people. It is about working together to rescue our state and bring back the glory of Ekiti from sabbatical. Apparently, the glory of Ekiti is on sabbatical. I believe it calls for concerted efforts on the part of every stakeholder to rescue Ekiti. I believe every stakeholder appreciates the fact that this is the time to forgive. This is the time to embrace. This is the time to appreciate the fact that it is no longer about individual. It is about all of us as the collective effort to rescue our people and the state. It is one state that has been afflicted economically and socially.
There is no doubt about it. Ekiti State is highly afflicted and begging for leadership. It must also be a collective leadership. It is not a leadership of any individual, how ever powerful. What we need in Ekiti is a central leadership platform that will call for a coalition of all those who mean well within the political class and outside the political class. This must also include sons and daughters of Ekiti who constitute part of corporate Nigeria. The Ekiti people that form part of corporate Nigeria will come and contest. These people just want the best for the best. Unfortunately, nobody is reaching out to them. They do not know what is going on. All they see is the political elite fighting among themselves. Yet, they need to be involved. We need a central leadership platform in the state. It is through that, that we can make a different and carry out the kind of intervention that we need. It is not just about winning election and becoming governor. It is also about running the economy of the state. And it calls for intervention
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is one year. How do you rate it in terms of performance?
For the first time in the annals of democratic experience, the votes of Nigerians counted successfully. I said successfully because the other time our votes could have counted was when we had the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Obviously, Nigerians voted for what would have been a change that would have heralded late Chief M.K.O. Abiola. But, unfortunately, it was annulled. Unlike June 12, 1993, the votes of Nigerians counted with the election of President Muhammadu Buhari. The last 12 months have been a period of very serious attempt to right a lot of wrongs. To my mind, this is something that will take more than few months.
It is also something that will take concerted efforts on the part of stakeholders that will cut across those in the government. Beyond them, it requires the concerted efforts of other stakeholders that constitute bureaucracy and the judiciary. It will be a highway to nowhere for any person to assume that this is a change that can be brought about by an individual. Of course, the president means well. He has demonstrated zero tolerance to corruption. I do not think anyone is left in doubt. Even at that, it goes beyond his own personal desire. It is something that will require the concerted efforts of everybody. My concern is, to what extend are the critical stakeholders involved in the change mantra.
But Buhari’s anticorruption campaign has been faulted on many grounds…
For the anticorruption crusade to really succeed, there is need for the buy-in of the judiciary. There is need for the buy-in of the civil society. There is need for the buy-in of the media as the fourth estate of the realm. Beyond the media reporting the incidents of people arrested or people returning money or matters arising from the courtroom based on prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other anti-graft agencies, to what extent the media itself as a bloc of stakeholders has been made to buy into the vision and drive that vision. To what extent the judiciary has been brought into this vision. It goes beyond a few government officials criticising the judiciary. Of course, people may criticise the judiciary. The judiciary is not immune to criticism, like any other institution of government. To my mind, the judiciary does not appear to be a bloc of stakeholders that can be said to have been made to buy into Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade.
But Nigerians have raised concerns about alleged disobedience of court orders by the Buhari administration in the course of the anticorruption war. Do your share this concern?
A lot of people are talking about the human rights aspect. To begin with, I do not buy into anti-corruption crusade being targeted at some people, especially members of the opposition parties. Who are the people in charge? It will not matter which parties you belong to. I do not think any suspect has been dragged to the court of law on the basis of his membership of any political party. People have been asked questions. Some people are being asked questions on the basis of the roles they played while they were in government.
Anyone who was directly involved in governance and is before any of the law courts today must be because those in government who were in charge of public treasury have mentioned their names as accomplices. When people begin to whip up the sentiment that the anti-corruption crusade is targeted at the Peoples Democratic Party it amuses me because it is a kind of sentiment that is not objective. That quickly explains why some people today would rather defect from the PDP to the APC. There are people that left the PDP because they have reasons to do so. There are also some people who need to do that because they have to escape the radar of the current administration. That is why we are still looking at it from the sentiment that the anti-corruption crusade is being targeted at the PDP. That should have no place in our own assessment of the whole situation.
To what extent also can the president be accused of not respecting human rights in the prosecution of anti-corruption crusade? To what extent can the president be accused of not observing the rule of law? These are issues that need to be examined very critically. There is no doubt that under any circumstance, the rule of law must be followed. If we reduce our courts to mere courtrooms that give orders and no one follows, then we are encouraging anarchy. That is why I think it is a very serious allegation when people say the administration is disrespecting court orders. That is why I think we can’t just wake up one morning and begin to accuse a government of not respecting the rule of law.
Definitely, that is not what is happening. It is in the same way that the government officials can just wake up and begin to criticise the judiciary. While certain government officials accuse the judiciary of frustrating the anti-corruption crusade, the judiciary felt aggravated, betrayed and terribly bad about it. It is in the same way people who mean well for this country will also frown on attempts to project them as people who do not believe in the rule of law or as people who are trying to target certain parties in the name of anticorruption crusade.
The truth about it is you expect to fight corruption and corruption will not fight back. And in an attempt to fight back, corruption will try to exploit the contradictions within the system. For me, the major contradiction within the system is that the administration could have done more. And it is not late for the administration. The administration needs to do more in sitting down with the critical stakeholders. Again, I identify them to include the judiciary, the media and the civil society. You have to organise the private sector. These are the critical stakeholders that any government will need their buy-in to be able to follow through any policy that is cogent and compelling enough to be implemented to turn an economy around and turn the social psyche of the people of a country around and to be able to establish a new culture.
We need to establish the culture of transparency, accountability and sincerity in governance. Without these stakeholders, you cannot achieve much. Rather than accusing the president of not observing the rule of law, the critical stakeholders should be made to understand the vision of this administration as it relates to all of us to kill corruption, as the president will say, before corruption kills us. It is dangerous for everybody to allow this attempt of corruption to fight back to succeed. Because if it succeeds, it means that there will be no end to corruption. And in the process, it will destroy what looks like an embodiment of hope.
Nigeria’s economy has been experiencing grave downturn in recent times. Does it suggest the APC government’s lack of capacity for effective economic management?
Whether we like it or not, things are hard. Whether we like it or not, our economy is experiencing crisis. It has been a bubble for several years. The economic problem we are talking about now has been with us for a while. But in the past few years, those who managed our economy had been deceiving us by creating erroneous impressions deliberately that our economy was in good shape. In truth, our economy was right on the floor. Reality has dawned on every person. Today, we have a president who has been going around engaging the international community on how we can revamp our economy. Mr. President has not unduly boosted the confidence of potential investors. Rather, he has been presenting what has been happening. However, critics have been faulting the president, that he is creating a bad impression of Nigeria and that he is going around the world telling everybody that our economy is weak. They even argue that such comments can destroy the confidence of the investors. But the truth is that nobody wants to invest in an economy whose fundamentals are not established. Rather than making potential investors run away, what Mr. President is doing will actually encourage sincere investors. Every investor wants to know the realities.
There are even investors who are interested in investing in a crisis economy. That is what they prefer. But let us know the realities. When any person is investing, the only difference is how long it will take to recover. You take long time investment decisions and draw plans based on the truth of a situation that gives such investors peace of mind. Most sincere investors around the world are looking for such realities. When people make it look as if it is wrong for the president to stand up anywhere and say there are corrupt people in Nigeria, where is the country in the world without its share of corrupt people?