The director general of the Presidential Campaign Council of the Labor Party, Akin Osuntokun, in this interview with Friday OLOKOR, condemns the attack on the party’s presidential candidate, PETER OBI, in Katsina state recently.
That it was on the news that Obi’s campaign team was attacked in Katsina. Can you shed light on what really happened?
Well, it was a noisy scene. My feeling was that it was a backlash organized by some politician-mongers who didn’t like the success of the rally we had in Kano the day before, which was unexpected. Katsina has a reputation for being one of the most violent states in Nigeria.
In fact, its governor requested that the citizens be armed to defend themselves. So there was a prevailing security crisis long before the rally we went to. So from that perspective, we can’t say it’s not expected. And I’m sure they attacked President Muhammadu Buhari’s convoy at one point and injured two security personnel or so.
So what does this portend for the upcoming election?
Typically, an election period in Nigeria is tense and plagued by sporadic violence. But you know that Nigeria has been a major site of security failures around the world. I mean, Nigeria is home to two or three terrorist groups. Boko Haram, ISWAP (Islamic State West African Province) and of course the bandits and others have pretty much carved out a territory for themselves in the State of Niger and a few other places where they exercise sovereignty over the Nigerian government. If you want to count incidents of security breaches in Nigeria, they are far too frequent. So, given that context, what happened in Katsina cannot be said to be totally unexpected or peculiar.
Even without the context of the general collapse of law and order in the country, Katsina and Kano seem to have this reputation for attacking convoys of political opponents they don’t like.
Remember that almost every election season this kind of thing comes up. But I also have a feeling that the previous rally in Kano State, which took everyone by surprise and implies some kind of popular acceptance of our presidential bid, took everyone by surprise. And that made them feel uncomfortable, so they panicked. So they fought back the way they know how to: terrorizing people to intimidate opponents from trying to campaign or advance.
When you take all these perspectives together, it’s not such an unexpected development and one that should incite panic.
As I said, Katsina State is one of the epicenters of the security crises Nigeria is facing. I’m sure as we speak there are still a few people with kidnappers in the state.
It even got to the point that the governor was having a conference or dialogue with the head of the state bandits. So the situation in Katsina has degenerated into a special class of its own.
With this scenario, would you say that it was politically motivated by the opponents or by the bandits themselves?
There are several perspectives. I don’t think one reason disqualifies the other. It’s not just that we have every reason to believe that those who opposed the Kano rally or Obi-Datti’s penetration of the northwest were behind it.
Bullying has been an integral part of Nigerian politics. In fact, it has been the forerunner of banditry and militancy in at least two regions. Boko Haram’s origins date back to the era of Ali Modu Sherrif in Borno State. When the elections ended, the thugs became a nuisance and eventually morphed into the Boko Haram insurgency. There’s a lot of that in the Niger Delta, where people find work as thugs during election season.
Having obtained the necessary weapons and equipment, they turned it into a way of life. So this is the situation we find ourselves in in Nigeria.
So the thing, of course, is that with or without the political campaign in Katsina, the state has a tendency towards recurring crises and breakdowns in law and order.
As the election approaches, do you see this manifesting? What are your fears about the safety of Obi and the Labor Party?
A popular politician who has a lot of credibility has nothing to hide from the people. That is usually the case. Of course, there will be one or two crazy sponsored thugs, but you need to get on with your job or mission regardless of security risks.
It will not be very logical for me now to project that the election season, which we have entered and is rapidly reaching its climax, will not experience serious security breaches. I have not seen evidence that can assure me otherwise.
There are some places in Nigeria today where I find it a bit unbelievable that the Independent National Electoral Commission can hold elections. For example, there are several parts of Borno, Katsina, Zamfara and some other places. So based on what these places have become; it is unlikely that there will be peaceful elections in those places.
The British and US governments issued a statement about a month ago warning of impending Boko Haram attacks, although they did not occur. But the United States also gave a similar forecast about a week ago. These are very worrying.
First, I don’t know if our security agencies know that, based on how they dismiss or get defensive about what those foreign governments say. It implies that they most likely don’t know it and are unable to deal with it.
So, like I said, let’s wait and see. I mean, anyone who wants to vote in the election is going to be worried. I mean foreign countries that have the resources and sophistication to collect intelligence, say something is going to happen, most likely it is true. But let’s wait and see how our security agencies will deal with this.
The Southeast has become a hotbed of antagonism, banditry, kidnapping and all that. INEC offices are under attack. And the region is supposed to be the strong point of the Labor Party and its presidential candidates. What are your fears about your match’s chances?
I think all those things are a bit exaggerated. But again, I suspect the involvement of fifth columnists. She calls a dog a bad name to hang him up.
It is illogical that a specific area with preference and serious potential to produce the next president of Nigeria would go away or do nothing, allowing those who want to instigate violence to have a field day.
As I said, I suspect the involvement of a fifth columnist. Someone will do something and then chalk it up to bullying or terrorism in that area. However, anyone with southeastern interests in mind will know that such violence is counterproductive.
It is the responsibility and obligation of any citizen of that region to ensure that nothing spoils the elections and to work for them to be carried out in a peaceful manner. Those who are attacking are a terrible minority, but they are no less deadly for that.
But, as I said before, I don’t rule out the participation of a fifth columnist, who will do it to justify, most likely, a declaration of a state of emergency or to scare people into not voting.
Do you anticipate a runoff in this election because there have been indications that it is likely?
My own forecast is that our candidate will win without the need for a runoff. A second round is based on the forecast that none of the candidates will meet the conditions to be declared elected. So we look forward to a situation where we will meet the conditions, and in case we don’t, we are prepared for the option of a second round. So either way, we stand our ground.
Would you predict post-election violence in some places?
I don’t have to be a psychic to have that premonition. Most likely, people will reject some election results that they believe do not reflect the reality of the political situation. This time, the electorate is educated and motivated enough to assert itself.
What do you think are the chances of the Labor Party in the South West, particularly in Lagos?
My position is that if we have free and fair elections in Lagos in the next elections, the Labor Party will win. The reasons are not very difficult to figure out. My peers and the younger generation are united in their support for Obi. All my companions and their children are Obedient.
So if you have that kind of support in free and fair elections, Labor will win.