A former Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress and Head of Legal Directorate of the Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Babatunde Ogala, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU talks about the hurdles ahead of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu for the 2023 presidential election
How excited are you about the emergence of your candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, as the APC Presidential candidate?
After months and years of hard work, permutations, planning, re-planning and other things and then the one last sleepless week, seven days of sleepless nights, if you ask how excited I am, of course, I feel fulfilled. I feel at least we have completed a part of the marathon race. I am excited and joyful. The adjective that you can use to describe and juxtapose with being happy, please use it on my behalf.
What was the most challenging part of the campaign as the head of the legal directorate?
The legal directorate was more of an interventionist. It was those in the operations that would have seen more of the nitty-gritty. But I remember that for the campaign committee or council, the challenges varied from possibility of betrayals, frustrations, sabotage, speculations out there – both truthful and untruthful, lies and falsehood. The challenges were multifaceted.
There were all manners of issues in play which all constituted real challenges for us. Just imagine a meeting where you had assurances from delegates and as you were going with those assurances, you heard and found out that you might not have the assurances again. There were many that were multifaceted – all manners of challenges, roadblocks, going forward and backwards. I can’t really say this is the most challenging. But as we wake up every day, we keep meeting new challenges.
What would you specifically rate as the biggest legal hurdle crossed to have Tinubu cleared for the race?
The most difficult was honestly the speech by the APC Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu announcing that they had arrived at a consensus candidature (of President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan). It is difficult to do that because this also has a political colouration.
Of course, that announcement could well have been made and some people could get away with it. But what we immediately did was to go through the enabling statutes and we established that by law, we have passed that stage of (declaring) a consensus candidature which a lot of people use very loosely because consensus in itself is an option out of three.
Consensus, direct and indirect primary are the available three options that we have. Yes, consensus may be adopted. It is only when it fails that you resort to direct or indirect primary.
However, in this case, you have started indirect (primary) and it simply meant that you had foreclosed consensus. And even if we were going to have a consensus, consensus is a process that is driven by a process and implemented by the aspirants. Only if they can agree to step down for one of them and they must put it in writing with their signature, and go to the convention to announce that they have stepped down for a particular person and they have agreed that it should be by consensus, and the convention will vote on whether to accept or not.
But here we were, without following the law at all, somebody who was not entrusted with powers to either coordinate on the path to the consensus now announced that one person must become the consensus candidate. We had to quickly advise the party that going that route was just preparing and inviting a disastrous consequence on the APC not even participating in the election at all.
Are you ready for any legal fireworks that could possibly emerge from the outcome of the contest?
Oh! Naturally! We are ready.
Which ones have emerged so far?
Some people have filed some (court) actions which took me to court seeking to disqualify Asiwaju from even contesting at all. So, there will be a lot of fireworks and we are also set. We give them maybe one week to gather themselves together and start coming forward.
During the presidential screening, petitions questioning Tinubu’s credentials, educational background and even identity were flying all over the place. Were you at any time afraid that he would be disqualified?
No. I had no doubt in my mind that it was never going to happen. I had no doubt in my mind that he was never going to be disqualified. We know what the implications would be for our party – for all of us – if we say we have disqualified our very best. And of course, to even disqualify, it has to follow a process and with established facts, leading to other factors. You don’t just sit down and say you will disqualify (somebody). No. There must be cogent reasons – very cogent. And those are the kind of reasons that will disqualify a man (or woman) from being elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
For those who have gone to court and the litigation that may follow, how do you plan to surmount these hurdles?
Let them bring it on. We will take every matter as it comes, step by step. At the end of the day, there will be (pre)election petitions from all manners of persons. I will just say ‘bring it on.’
There were fears that Tinubu was not Adamu’s favourite candidate, hence his choice of Lawan. How do you think a Tinubu presidency would fare under Adamu’s leadership of the APC?
Going forward, the Chairman (of APC) himself has said it was all about the party as far as he was concerned. We assume everybody is back on track. Our opponents have congratulated us and they have made the pledge to work for the progress of the party. The National Chairman himself has made that comment. I assume we are all on course and on the same page.
Ahead of the primary, you issued a statement stating that consensus could not have been forced. Some would argue that such complaints shouldn’t have come from Tinubu’s Campaign Organisation, given the several complaints on how APC candidates usually emerge in Lagos, where imposition is allegedly the order of the day. Do you agree?
Whoever says that either says it out of mischief or ignorance. In any contest, anyone has the right to support any candidate of their choice and at no time has Tinubu ever foreclosed the chances of anybody contesting. He has a right to support a candidate and that he has done. I will take you back with (Babatunde) Fashola. We tend to forget that there were about 17 candidates (for the governorship of Lagos State). If I could mention some names, there were the likes of Tokunbo Afikuyomi, Ganiyu Solomon, Femi Pedro, Jimi Agbaje, Akeem Gbajabiamila but he said ‘I have to throw my weight behind this guy (Fashola).’ You could challenge him.
Then (Akinwumi) Ambode, there was Femi Hamzat who came second in the (governorship) primary. There was Supo Sasore, there was Adeyemi Kuforiji and a few others.
Then when it came to (Babatunde) Sanwo-Olu who ran against an incumbent, Ambode, who Tinubu did not support, he passed the love to the current governor, Sanwo-Olu. There are always contests but if you say candidates that he supported have always won, it shows that the man is popular.
Buhari, like Tinubu, is believed to have an overbearing influence to sway support away from other aspirants. If Buhari had openly endorsed another presidential aspirant, would Tinubu have won the primary?
Yes, we would have won. We were not asking anybody to anoint or pronounce us, what we were saying was, ‘let us go to the primary. If we lose, we will go home peacefully.’
What if Buhari had endorsed Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo?
With anybody’s endorsement, we would have settled well.
As a former National Legal Adviser of the APC, do you think the party should have allowed statutory delegates to vote at the primaries?
The party was obeying the Electoral Act but I have a different view about the interpretation but it is what it is. If the law says only ad-hoc delegates should be allowed, so be it. It is not about what the court or judge wishes but what I thought the party should have done. It was more of what the law says.
At 70, your candidate is one of the oldest candidates in the race today. Don’t you think this frustrates youth participation in politics?
Even in this last exercise (primary) that we just concluded, there were the likes of Dein Jack-Rich and Emeka Nwajiuba.
Why can’t the older candidates step down for the younger ones?
So be it. When they get themselves organised, so be it.