Tuesday, April 1, 2014 12:04 pm
Popular Lagos-based human rights activist Biodun Sowunmi is saddened by the lackadaisical attitude of the clergy and civil society groups while President Goodluck Jonathan and other political officer holders continue to plunder and further plunge Nigeria into chaos. He spoke with EROMOSELE EBHOMELE
Of the 1.7 million voters in Anambra State, only 25 per cent voted. Still, of it, INEC disqualified 133,000 votes. That means the actual number of people that voted is between 18 and 19 per cent. Who is to blame since INEC is putting the blame on only one of its officers, thus absolving itself of guilt?
Professor Jega is not taking responsibility, but this is INEC’s responsibility. It is his fault. The only way one can view it is, if you look at the facts immediately after the 2011 election, the same INEC Commissioner messed up and there were calls for his removal. INEC did not do that. And because it didn’t do it, we found ourselves in a situation where he had to conduct another election. There were also calls by opposition parties before the election that the man was biased and should be moved away from Anambra State, but again, INEC refused to do that. Jega was in a position to move the INEC commissioner away and get a new one for the election, yet he chose not to do that. If the election now turned out to be a mess, probably one we have never had in the history of Nigeria and also one of the lowest in terms of accreditation, Jega has to take responsibility for it. I think INEC is in tatters and cannot conduct the 2015 election. If it cannot conduct election in one state, I wonder how it would be able to conduct elections in about 32 or 33 states at the same time. To me, INEC has not learnt anything if it cannot understand basic things such as distribution of materials, movement of staff to polling units on time and ensuring that the right result sheets are sent to the polling units. We are not even talking about the revision of the electoral list. The most basic things are what the INEC staff can do. It does not take rocket science to say result A should be in polling booth A.
Prior to the day of election, materials get to the state capital from where they are distributed. Why should there be delay in the distribution?
If we were to believe Jega, he claimed the materials were in order and that INEC’s effort was sabotaged. But the truth of the matter is that one person alone cannot sabotage the process in so many areas like that. Just look around; the problem was all over the state. If you say just above 400,000 voters were accredited, that is less than 25 per cent. So how come we organised an election and people protested that they were not accredited? What happened? The Electoral Act made it clear that people would be accredited between 8am and 12pm. So why were INEC officials not in the different polling booths at the time? According to Jega, the materials were on ground, and I want to believe him, but what happened was a clear case of poor supervision. This could have been compounded by an act of sabotage by an INEC official as alleged by the INEC chairman himself. That does not discountenance the fact that the election would never be acceptable to anybody, because you cannot have only 25 per cent of the electorate electing a governor as a result of the fact that they were disenfranchised, and not because they chose not to come out. The thing to do now is for the election to be cancelled. But INEC itself cannot do this. It has to be done through the court.
This is an election in which the gubernatorial candidates of the PDP, the APC and other opposition parties complained about irregularities. But in spite of these complaints, APGA believes the election was free and fair and the PDP even lambasted the APC for complaining …
One needs to look at the political configuration in Anambra state. Many believed that because the Supreme Court intervened in the selection of the PDP candidate, the PDP leadership chose to back APGA, which has proven time and time again to be the leprous hands of the PDP. The PDP is the body, APGA is one hand while the other hand is the Labour Party. Those are the two leprous hands of the PDP. It is not even backing its candidate. What you are seeing is a replay of what happened in Ondo state where Sola Oke, who belongs to the Olusegun Obasanjo faction, emerged as the flag bearer of the PDP in the gubernatorial election, but the PDP at the national level worked against him and assisted the Labour Party to influence the outcome of the election in the state. The patterns are very clear. Look at what happened in the Akoko and Okitipupa areas of Ondo State, where so many voters were disenfranchised and accreditation did not start until 2pm in some areas. About 15 polling units were cancelled. It is this same tactics that had been perfected in Ondo State that was used in Anambra State. They used it in Delta Central by-election. What you need to do is starve the opposition stronghold of ballot papers and ensure that ‘INEC inefficiency’ is exhibited in terms of shortage of staff and other issues resulting in delay. Unfortunately for them, the Anambra election went wrong and people came out to complain.
A new and credible election is what is needed in that state. Don’t forget that this election failed the three tests of any democratic election: fairness, credibility and freedom. Some analysts believe that this election may not be unconnected to President Jonathan’s desperation for re-election…It is very clear. The President is in a very weak position. As we can see, he is the weakest President in our country’s history.
Why did you say that?
His political party is almost terminally fractured. The President is not even in a position to influence the passing of a a single bill in the National Assembly except he has the backing of the opposition within and without his party. He is in a weak position, and the country is just drifting like a ship without a captain. We are in currently in a country with a rudderless leadership. Already the president is in trouble in the South-South because of the five states in the South-South, Edo is APC, while he is not in good terms with Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and he is not sure of winning the state in an election. So he is left with three states in the South- South, his own zone. Now, South-East voted 100 per cent for him in the last election, even though we know it was manipulated. Of the five states in the South-East, he has lost Imo state to the APC and is now faced with the prospect of losing Anambra, leaving him with three states which would seal his fate. If the President should lose Anambra, then there is no point contesting the 2015 election; and this fact is not lost on his political allies. In addition to that, the implication of the President losing Anambra is that more people within his party would question his authority. They would only see that his days at Aso Rock are numbered. This explains the President’s desperation to ensure that by hook or crook, a safe political party wins election in that state. Moreover, the President does not seem to trust anybody within his party anymore. So the only thing he could do is to try and form tactical alliance with governors of parties that have problems. And Peter Obi’s case comes to mind since he is willing that APGA be used to further the interest of the President and not the interest of democracy in Nigeria.
From your analysis, would one be correct to say the President has lost interest in good governance and is focusing more on 2015?
It is clear that governance has stopped in Nigeria. Anybody who claims the country is being governed the way it is now is just making a mockery of governance. The reason is not far-fetched. You can see what is happening to the aviation sector despite all the billions of dollars spent. We still have a very unsafe sky. Currently, the aviation sector is at the verge of collapsing; we’ve never had it so bad Regulatory authorities in safer climes, particularly in Europe and America are more concerned about the aviation sector. The sector is riddled with corruption. The Oduagate scandal is there and the President is so weak and not in the position to sack the Minister of Aviation. Instead, he is looking for one excuse or the other, thinking that the whole matter will be exposed. He knows that sacking the Minister means that he would not be able to appoint a candidate of his own choice, but a candidate that must go through screening in the National Assembly where he is not able to secure command of the majority of members. That is one of the reasons I said the President is very weak. Look at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Nigerians saw when the President flagged off the fixing of the road with so much funfair; yet he knew he had no money to carry out projects. Sincerely, we are being ruled by deceivers. Mr. President is not being honest with Nigerians. He knew he had no money for the road and never sent a supplementary budget for the project, yet he flagged it off, giving people a false hope.
In his campaign in 2011, the President promised to expand the Lagos Airport Road leading to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. Not a single thing has been done on that road. We still have the Apapa Expressway …
Maybe because it is Lagos …
What about the East-West Road? What about the East-West Coastal Road which would benefit not only the President but the people of South-South where the President comes from? How has his tenure made the South-South better? It is only the ex-militants that are better off there- the Tompolos and Boyloafs of this world are the ones enjoying him. The average people in the Niger-Delta are still suffering like before. It is the same thing for the millions of poverty-stricken people in the area. We only have few cronies surrounding the President that are better-off. If the President cannot ensure that his area is well governed, how can he ensure that the entire country is well governed? We live in a country today where the worst are lording over the best.
Maybe because the best have refused to seize the opportunity to lead…
I don’t see it that way. We live in a situation in which political parties determine who becomes their candidates. Therefore, except you manage to secure the ticket of a political party, there is nothing you can do. Now, we don’t have provisions for independent candidacy. Give the people an opportunity to make an informed choice. They may still choose to vote for the wrong candidate. Democracy is about having the right person in a position of authority. What is actually democratic is that you have a process of removing a wrong person when they are in positions of authority. In Nigeria, to recall any candidate is tough. Nobody has been recalled successfully. That is why we find ourselves in a position where if the political parties fail to pick the right candidates, the people have no choice but to vote for the one they see. I think the Supreme Court also makes it clear that it is the parties we vote for and not the candidates. So it does not matter who is being fielded by political parties, the candidates’ credibility do not matter but the political parties. And if you remember, some governors came in through that process.
Don’t you think these challenges are part of the reasons why the President is organizing a national conference?
Let no one make any mistake. We are set for a sovereign national conference. I was part of the PRONACO in Europe and have always clamoured for a sovereign national conference, not a national conference which would be subjected to the National Assembly. The President knew that we had all these challenges when he rejected the sovereign national conference. Till now, the President has not changed his mind about it. What he is asking Nigerians to do is to dialogue without the word ‘sovereign’. The situation is like tying someone’s hand behind his back and asking him to run. He knows it is a waste of time because he cannot get it done through the National Assembly with the internal opposition within his party and the APC members at the National Assembly. Since when did the caretaker now even become the one to dictate the terms of letting of the landlord? The Nigerian people are the landlord and the National Assembly members are the agents. If they had handled the country very well, we won’t have come to the point of asking for a sovereign national conference. The country has been badly managed and its structure is threatened.
I think some people misunderstood the position of those who oppose the President, saying the National Conference is to derail the country and for political purposes. The President knows that once it gets to the National Assembly, that’s where it would die. Why do you want to waste our time when you know you do not have the required majority to back it up?
You have accused the Jonathan administration of incompetence, but the government has said it is hampered by acts of terrorism …
The Presidency would always use the Boko Haram as an excuse. But if the Boko Haram is distracting our President in the north, particularly in the North-East, is it distracting him in the South-South where he is from? Is it the same Boko Haram that is the reason for his failure to construct a road in the South-West? Is it the Boko Haram that is behind the prolong closure of universities? The Minister of Education, Nyesome Wike, who should be negotiating with ASUU, was busy fighting with Amaechi in Rivers State. If the Presidency is not distracted, it should have fired Wike. Again, until recently, the Boko Haram had not been a major problem for the Presidency. In fact, it had been a major excuse for the pumping of over a trillion naira to security which has not been accounted for. We have seen the Farouk Lawan report alleging that N1.6 trillion was being frittered away through mismanagement and outright theft by people with links to the Presidency. If you are to discard Lawan’s report because of the problem he eventually created, what about the Aig-Imoukhuede’s report? His report identified at least N250 billion and listed the companies involved. Have we recovered the money? Is anyone in jail on account of it? Is this not incompetence? How could we create a round-tripping in the oil industry and nobody knows about it? Just recently, the National Assembly said the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation could not account for the resources. How do you sell something and you cannot account for it? We don’t even know how much oil we are pumping out or how many barrels we get in a day. The state governors are just told this is what is available. Where is that done? Where is accountability?
People have complained about this and nothing has been done …
It is a culture of impunity. Three things are involved here-corruption in the oil sector, impunity and leadership incompetence. Our leaders treat us as though there is nothing we can do. So what do you expect? As we speak, the Federal Government cannot tell you how many of our children are in secondary school. Within the last few days, the Federal Government has disagreed with the World Bank’s claim that we have 100 million destitute in Nigeria. If in the midst of this stupendous wealth, 100 million out of 150 million people are wallowing in abject poverty, then what is it? I do not believe that we have the right people running the affairs of this country. The President is so weak that he cannot sack the Minister of Aviation. We have also seen how they are using the police against Dino Melaye who is campaigning against corruption. We have not seen the President come out to say he cannot tolerate corruption in the Aviation sector.
But the President has always said he is fighting corruption …
I’m sure he is the only one who knows he is fighting corruption. At least, we saw how Ribadu fought corruption. He was accused of carrying out selective arrests but he never arrested anyone who was not corrupt. We had the likes of Ade Bendel roaming our streets with police escorts. Ribadu dealt with them all. He was disgraced out. Farida, who even tried faintly, was also disgraced out. Now Lamorde- the way his predecessors were treated would be highly instructive to him. And currently, the EFCC does not have the resources to prosecute cases. Go to EFCC and see the amount of cases lying on the table. It does not have money to hire lawyers. The only reason it still exists is because it is getting international support.
In all these, what should be the roles of the civil society?
Sincerely, the civil society is failing in its obligation to the country and its people. The Trade Union movement is also failing in its obligations because they are two organized groups that could mobilize the people to confront corruption head-on. Corruption is the cancer eating the fabric of our nation. The civil society and the Trade Union, churches and Islamic societies are all failing here to rise up to the challenge and champion the cause of the oppressed people against the oppressors. They have instead adopted an attitude of passivity or indifference. Some of them have joined the rat-race for accumulation. That is why today, you cannot tell the difference between a pastor and a politician. They dress alike, wearing shining expensive suits, flowing agbada and flying in jets.