Abudugana Adebiyi Jelili is the Secretary of NIDO Malaysia and a former UNILAG Student Union president. In this interview, he describes how Malaysians play politics and how our politicians can learn from them.
The topical issue now in Nigeria is how the opposition can partner to challenge the PDP. is it possible for the Nigerian opposition to borrow the Malaysian model of coalition?
Politics in Malaysia is almost completely race based. Political parties are either Chinese, Malay or Indian. This goes for both the opposition and the ruling parties. However, they've no problem working together. The Barisan Nasional (BN), which is the ruling coalition, has three main component parties: The Umno (the Malay party and the major partner in the coalition), MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), and MIC (the Indian version). They always agree among them who to field for positions. Interestingly, although all the major parties are racial based, they put more significance on the quality of their candidates than their races.
In 2010 for example, for Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat, BN nominated Kamalanathan (the Indian) MIC information chief to stand for the election. More interestingly, Kamalanathan couldn't vote for himself because that was not his constituency. It's like our PDP asking an Igbo man to contest under the banner of the party in Kano for a House of Representatives seat vacated by an opposition member in a state controlled by the ANPP.
And that's not all, Hulu Selangor is more than 60% Malay but BN asked an Indian to represent them. However, Kamalanathan won that election against the opposition candidate Syed Ibrahim, a Malay, who incidentally was being mentioned as a possible Prime Minister when he was in BN before he was kicked out for playing money politics.
Was Kamalanathan selected because he was popular among the electorate?
He was selected only because BN thought he would make a good leader. Actually, the voters didn't even know him. When the Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yasin introduced him as BN candidate, he said, "Kamalanathan must go to every polling area to meet the people, as people are saying they have never heard of him." So the opposition in Nigeria can do the same thing. They must sacrifice their own interests and allow good people to represent them.
What's printed on the ballot, the coalition name (BN) or the respective names of the component parties?
It is BN that's on the ballot paper.
Don't you think it's impossible for the opposition in Nigeria to follow that example since they were unable to form a single party on time?
Yes it's too late now for the opposition in Nigeria to come under a single party since they've submitted the names of their candidates to INEC. Moreover, INEC is quite pedantic in following its rules. But still, they can learn from the Malaysian opposition. Unlike BN, they don't print a single name on the ballot. The opposition coalition has PKR (Anwar Ibrahim's party), Pas (the Islamic party), DAP (the only major party that's multiracial) and so forth.
What they do is to agree among themselves as to which party to field a candidate and then they all gang up against BN, the ruling coalition. Thus Pat Utomi, Dele Momodu, Okotie, Ribadu, Buhari, Shekarau, etc. could win in April if they agree to support only one person.
How do the Malaysian politicians campaign?
While many of our politicians use money to buy votes, in Malaysia, mere suspicion of that â€“ money politics, they call it â€“ will earn you a suspension by your own party and then they leave you at the mercy of the courts. I remember a politician who was suspended by his own party for money politics but the court found him innocent of the charge. It was only then that the party reabsorbed him. They campaign mainly by making promises and going to the people at the grassroots. Of course they also play on their people's emotions.
For instance, in the example cited earlier, BN used Kamalanathan's name to advantage. The Deputy Prime Minister said in April last year, "Kamal is a Malay name, Than sounds like the Chinese surname Tan and Nathan is an Indian name. Also, Kamal means â€˜perfect' in Arabic, Alan means â€˜good' in Arabic and Nathan, I'm not sure..."
Further, the parties in positions of power try their best to do good for their people so that they can win more seats, since the Malaysians are very swift in changing their party allegiances. For example, PKR, Anwar Ibrahim's party formed by his wife Wan Azizah Ismail in 2003, had only one sit in the parliament. But after 2008 general elections, they had 38.
The new Prime Minister, Najib Abdurrazak, is winning those seats back one after the other. How is he achieving that?
By going to one village today, dining with another village tomorrow and ordering for the immediate execution of a certain project for yet another village the next day. I don't know how he does it, but that guy is everywhere. And where he cannot be, the deputy prime minister is there; knowing that if they go to sleep, the ever energetic opposition could win the next elections.
When the prime minister was ill a couple of months ago, the wife could hardly keep him in bed. And because he was hospitalized not in Germany or Egypt but in his own country, he discovered some things that the hospital lacked and immediately provided them. It's always people, people and people. Their politicians put ours to shame, don't they?
But Malaysians also go to foreign hospitals. Last year it was reported that Dr. Mahathir was hospitalized in Australia?
He was already in Australia when he fell ill. He was invited there to give a talk. It would be suicidal for him to say take me back home, I prefer the hospital in my country because I'm a patriot.
The opposition here is also doing well in the states they control. For example in Selangor (Kuala Lumpur environs) the people don't pay water bill up to some certain amount of water consumed. I have a Nigerian friend who didn't pay one dime in water bills for the two years he lived in the state. This gesture has achieved two objectives. It has endeared the government to the people and has mitigated wastage of water, which is a big problem in Malaysia. New Straits Times reported that the water Malaysians waste annually will fill more than 700,000 Olympics sized swimming pools.
Let's talk about NIDO. How does NIDO Malaysia contribute to national development?
We have succeeded in persuading academicians in our midst to spend some time with students and lecturers in any Nigerian citadel of higher learning by conducting classes and co-supervising students' and lecturers' research activities. At the moment, we have packaged a comprehensive give-back education plan under a committee that is to be chaired by Professor Suleyman Muyibi, a top-notch scholar. Among other things, the committee will be involved in facilitating overseas training of Nigerian junior academics, open rooms for Nigerian academics to be invited as visiting scholars to Malaysian leading universities and explore how laboratory, facilities, and library resources in highly regarded Malaysian citadels can be used for conducting research. This has been and will continue to benefit Nigeria and humanity as a whole.
What is the present state of the crisis in NIDO Malaysia: what's the status of the last elections? How are you going to tackle the high commissioner?
This crisis was incubated, instigated, hatched and executed by the retired Ambassador Peter Anegbeh who, upon overstretching his significance and jurisdiction, made use of the Nigeria High Commission here in Malaysia to stage a diplomatic coup d'Ã©tat to unseat the democratically elected incumbent and transiting leadership of ours. He has vouched to impose some single-handedly selected individuals as our successors.
On the ground that NIDOMY, like other chapters of NIDO are NGOs, we refused Anegbeh's initiative, hence, the origin of the war he has been wagging against our leadership and organization. Basking in the hallucination that NIDO is government-owned and that he has the backing of Abuja, Anegeh has been thwarting plans to hold our AGM. Recently, he wrote a poisonous letter against law-abiding Nigerian students schooling in Universiti Putra Malaysia simply because their adviser is NIDOMY President.
Due to my roles in exposing his atrocities, Anegbeh confessed to have demanded my arrest by the Malaysian government for constituting what he called security threat. One is saddened over Abuja's silence on the excesses of this retired diplomat who after collecting his severance benefit months back, refused to leave his duty post. As a legal entity with NGO status, we have concluded plans to hold our AGM and conduct our elections so that we can constitutionally dissolve our leadership and pave way for legitimate successors.