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Interim government controversy shakes polity, deepens APC, opposition rift



There are growing concerns over the calls for an interim government starting May 29, despite the fact that the Nigerian 1999 Constitution does not recognise an ad hoc government in power, writes LEKE BAIYEWU

The alleged plot to have the outgoing president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), hand over to an interim government is generating more noise across different sectors and sections in Nigeria. The alleged plan is to prevent Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress whom the Independent National Electoral Commission declared the winner of the 2023 presidential election, from being sworn in as the President the day Buhari exits power after two terms of eight years.

According to INEC, Tinubu of the APC won the election with 8,794,726 votes, while the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, recorded 6,984,520 votes; Peter Obi of the Labour Party garnered 6,101,533 votes, while Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party polled 1,496,687 votes.

Dissatisfied with the results and largely blaming the alleged flaws in the electoral process, the PDP and the LP, as well as their candidates, among others, are currently challenging Tinubu’s electoral victory at the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.

However, while the dispute over who should be declared President-elect is being addressed by the court, reports of an alleged plan to constitute an interim government hit the front burner of national discourse in the country.

For instance, some of the candidates and their supporters have been protesting against Buhari, to prevent handling over power to Tinubu, a call that the APC and the PDP have condemned.

The interim government scare is coming 30 years after the then military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the June 12, 1993, presidential election, which had MKO Abiola as the acclaimed winner, and installed an Interim National Government, led by Ernest Shonekan.

The brutal military despot, General Sani Abacha, who succeeded Babangida, had toppled the Shonekan-led ING 83 days later.

Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, and the first person to have been elected president in the Fourth Republic was Olusegun Obasanjo, another General and former Head of State who was accused of seeking to elongate his tenure in office.

At the twilight of his constitutional second term of eight years, he was accused of having a third-term agenda. Ever since then, Nigeria has had 24 years of interrupted democracy, which many have feared might be truncated by an interim government.

From as far back as February 3, 2023, about three weeks before the election, Tinubu, while addressing a crowd at the presidential campaign rally in Ado-Ekiti, the capital of Ekiti State, said those behind the naira and fuel crises in the country wanted to create a scenario that could lead to the postponement of the general election.

He said, “They are hoarding naira so that you can be angry and fight. They want confusion so that the election can be postponed. What they want is an interim government, but we are wiser than them. We will not fight. Any rat that eats rat poison will end up killing itself.”

Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State echoed Tinubu in a state broadcast on February 16 when he alleged that, “Once Asiwaju Bola Tinubu emerged as the candidate in June 2022 and subsequently did not pick one of them as his running mate, this currency redesign policy was conceived to ensure that the APC presidential candidate is deprived of what they allege it is a humongous war chest. They also sought to achieve any one or more of the following objectives: create a nationwide shortage of cash so that citizens are incited to vote against APC candidates across the board, resulting in massive losses for the party in all the elections; ensure that the cash crunch is so serious, along with the contrived and enduring fuel shortage existing since September 2022, that the 2023 elections do not hold at all, leading to an interim national government to be led by a retired Army General.”

What appeared to be a rumour going around in the polity received more validity from the Department of State Services, which, on March 29, 2023, said it had identified some unnamed key players planning for an interim government in the country.

In a statement by its spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, titled ‘DSS Confirms Plot for Interim Government by Misguided Political Actors,’ claimed to know the political actors behind the plot.

It read in part, “The DSS has identified some key players in the plot for an interim government in Nigeria. The Service considers the plot, being pursued by these entrenched interests, as not only an aberration but a mischievous way to set aside the constitution, undermine civil rule, and plunge the country into an avoidable crisis. The illegality is totally unacceptable in a democracy and to peace-loving Nigerians. This is even more so given that the machinations are taking place after the peaceful conduct of the elections in most parts of the country. The planners, in their many meetings, have weighed various options, which include, among others, sponsoring endless violent mass protests in major cities to warrant a declaration of a state of emergency. Another is to obtain frivolous court injunctions to forestall the inauguration of new executive administrations and legislative houses at the federal and state levels.”

However, critics have challenged the DSS to name the plotters, stating that the security and intelligence outfit should not be raising the alarm without carrying out its statutory mandate.

One of the bodies that slammed the DSS was the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, the body of the 36 governors of the federation.

Chairman of the NGF and Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, in a statement issued on March 31, 2023, partly said, “The Forum has deliberated extensively on the alleged plot by some unscrupulous elements to install an interim government, as contained in the recent statement issued by the DSS. Governors condemned in the strongest terms any unconstitutional means of regime change and pledged their commitment to continue to defend Nigeria’s democracy as elected leaders.

“In addition, the Forum believes that issuing statements without arrests is akin to heating up the polity and causing unwarranted tension in the country. It called on the DSS to do its job by immediately arresting and prosecuting all those involved in the plot as a matter of urgency.”

Similarly, the Progressive Governors’ Forum, a body of governors on the platform of the ruling APC, also condemned the interim government’s calls while calling for the arrest and prosecution of bodies or persons found to be hatching the plot.

Chairman of the PGF and Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, partly said, in a statement, “We condemn such agitation. It is commendable, however, that the Department of Security Service exposed the plot, and we call upon them to arrest and prosecute anyone involved. We urge all Nigerians to remain vigilant and resist any undemocratic conduct that is capable of undermining our democracy.

“Our country has done well in promoting democracy both in Nigeria and elsewhere on the African continent, and it is sad that some unpatriotic elements are nursing the evil plot for an interim government, which will amount to subverting our national democratic progress.”

Also criticising the DSS was a former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Diran Odeyemi, who said the claim by the agency that some people wanted to foist an interim government in the country was suspicious.

Odeyemi said, in part, “If, almost a week after they made that statement, we have not heard of any arrests or any concrete investigation thereafter, I will advise them not to turn themselves into a political party. Nigerians should watch out for the presidency. They might be the ones flying the kite. As it appears, politicians believe in democracy and do not believe in outside constitutional means of changing government, which is why all the presidential candidates are approaching the court and their supporters are dancing around the street in a form of protest.

“The issue of interim government coming from the DSS is like the Federal Government planning a coup against itself, and they should not bring politicians into it. Irrespective of which political party politicians belong to, we still believe in democracy and not any interim arrangement. If the DSS has any contrary view to this, they should bring out the arrest they have made. Their claim appears suspicious.”

Several prominent bodies and individuals, especially in government and politics, have also lent their voices to the debate and spoken against the alleged plan. Senior lawyers who have warned against the interim government include a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and immediate past Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Wole Olanipekun (SAN); and another ex-President of the NBA, Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).

Just on Thursday, the Defence Headquarters, through its Director of Defence Media Operations, Major-General Musa Danmadami, condemned the clamour for an interim government by those unhappy with the outcome of the presidential election, stating that the ING was illegal and unconstitutional.

Speaking to The PUNCH, the National Chairman of the South West Agenda for Tinubu 2023, Senator Dayo Adeyeye, stated that an interim government is unknown to law and added that politicians were responsible for the issues for which the elections are being discredited. The former lawmaker, who was a spokesman for the opposition PDP and the Senate at different times, said politicians should be made to sign agreements not to manipulate elections and take the results declared by INEC.

Adeyeye stated, “Enough is enough. The election is over one month now; let us settle down and begin to make whatever contributions we can make for the transition, suggestions for the incoming president on how to run the country, and begin to pray to God that this government will be a government that will move this country to the level of rapid socio-economic development and political stability. That is what we need in this country.

“I am proud of the elections that have taken place. I commend INEC; INEC should be commended. I want to particularly praise the National Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, for doing a wonderful job. We will keep refining the system. I hope that the next election will be better than this. But, whatever problem we had in this last election was not caused by INEC per se—they had their little problems—but by the politicians themselves.

“I am looking for that day when we will have a conference of politicians in which we will all agree that we will abide by the results of elections and that we will not do anything to manipulate the system. If there was any blame in this last election, it is on the politicians who prevented others from voting or visited polling units and destroyed the ballot boxes—not INEC but politicians who caused violence in many places. How do you blame INEC for that?”

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