Thursday, February 26, 2015 2:26 pm
The National Secretary of the Labour Party Dr. Kayode Ajulo, is not happy about the current state of electioneering in Nigeria. He speaks with journalists including EROMOSELE EBHOMELE on the state of the nation
How impressed are you on the level of Nigeria’s preparedness for the forthcoming elections?
Please recall I had raised the issue of INEC’s (Independent National Electoral Commission) abysmal level of preparedness on three different occasions (at our party’s interactive meeting with INEC in Abuja, Pastor Tunde Bakare’s 60th birthday in Lagos and on live interviews) in the past two months, and events less than a week to the shift of election dates had more than validated my demand. Prof. (Atahiru) Jega had four years to prepare for the general election but chose to be chasing shadows and pursuing frivolities instead of getting down to the important details.
He had demonstrated himself in the past as a shoddy umpire, when in 2011 he had to postpone elections when voters were already on queue ready to cast their votes. Those of us that contested then suffered from this ineptitude of the INEC. I nearly lost my life thereafter as I was abducted for three nights. Now INEC has unleashed an avalanche of uncompleted tasks to crown the garbage heap of laggardness and shoddiness. I can authoritatively say that out of the six steps or thereabouts toward a free and fair and violence-free election, the Jega-led INEC has only been able to fulfill one, which is the production of voters register. But even this is also filled with errors and a lot of omission of voters’ names. If Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State, or the Sultan of Sokoto, could not find his name on that ill-famed register, how much more the teeming ordinary people? In most zones of the country, a large number of voters have not been able to collect their permanent voters’ cards (PVC). Secondly, seven days to election, the INEC ad-hoc staff are yet to be employed and properly trained and kitted for the process, the police are not ready and the army has said it is not going to be involved. For now INEC is not ready.
But with the six-week shift, I don’t think Jega should have any excuse. He has already said he is on top of the situation; let us give him the chance to do what is expected of him as INEC chairman. He said he has already deployed all the PVCs. I think we should wait and hope he gets it right this time around instead of being pessimistic.
Some Nigerians think the shift in election date is a plot by the PDP to rig…
Let me quickly address the issue of nomenclature and concept. Correctly put, what has happened is a mere shift or rescheduling in the date of election and not postponement as such. Even the blind could sense that a shift was inevitable given the lack of readiness on the part of INEC. Prof Jega was not prepared for the election; stubbornly pressing ahead to conduct the polls would have amounted to an exercise in chaos. Yes, there was the issue of security, which was germane, particularly in the Northeast, palpably under siege from Boko Haram. But it would interest you that in most parts of the country, more than 40 per cent of the people were yet to collect their permanent voters’ card and thus would have been disenfranchised.
In such circumstance, any party that loses would definitely have had legal grounds to reject the results. Also, it stands against all reason to think that INEC that was yet to train and kit adhoc staff, print ballot papers and put in place the necessary logistics would want to press ahead with the election. Those claiming that it was a ploy by PDP are either not well informed about the true state of things or are just plainly trying to be mischievous. The fact is when all the cards were laid on the table; the parties all agreed that it was only fair to the electorate as well as the political gladiators to have a shift in date. Even if you ask some people in opposition parties now expressing their dissatisfaction, they will tell you that at the meeting with INEC at which I was present they had the opportunity to express themselves but could not advance any logical argument against a shift in date of election.
Many Nigerians think the six weeks demanded by the military to confront Boko Haram is not realistic…
I am not a military man, neither am I an intelligence officer, so I wouldn’t know what information they had at their disposal and what level of readiness or strategic and tactical considerations that made them to make such projections. But we should be cautious of those critics who can’t differentiate pump action from dane gun. We should give our security institutions the benefit of the doubt. Nigerians need to have faith in our institutions; it is an organ of the state meant to protect the interest of all, so if they have come out with certain claims on issues that border on our security and integrity of Nigeria, then we must give them that benefit of the doubt.
It is also noteworthy that some people seem to have made it their cliché that nothing good can come out of this country or any of its institutions except from them or when they are in power. But they have forgotten that the country is greater than any cabal or group. That is why such element would rather project the invincibility of Boko Haram than praise Nigerian officers and soldiers when they demonstrate gallantry and unequalled heroism in the fight against Boko Haram. I think the government and the military deserve our moral support and faith in the fight against Boko Haram. If you lose election today, you can always come back to win some other time, but if you lost the country, you have lost it for good. You have lost everything, and this should be more paramount to us. We should stop running down our armed forces.
Being a lawyer, do you think President Goodluck Jonathan has the right to fire Jega as is being clamoured in some quarters?
For me such speculations are more or less ill-wind that blows no one any good. You call someone the Chairman of an independent electoral body and you will now sack him for being too independent-minded? These for me are speculations by recurrent monumental political nitwits. They are speculations by political jobbers who are stared in the face by their dwindling political fortunes and now resort to heating up the polity. As to whether or not the President has the right to sack Jega, I will say yes, with emphasis. By the provision of our sacred constitution and other extant laws, Prof. Jega is an appointee of the President. The President, of course, has the right to fire him. This is the law and there are some issues we should not over politicise.
Some Nigerians are calling for the use of Temporary Voters Cards. Are you in support of this?
The most important thing, I think, is that people should not be disenfranchised on account of failure on the part of INEC. There have been instances of people who cannot find their names on the register, but have evidence of registration in the form of temporary voters’ card. INEC should be ready for other options in resolving this even if it means use of temporary voters’ card. But then that would depend on how significant such cases are vis a vis the pros and cons of such decision. I am apprehensive of the usage of the voters card thing, we seem to be deceiving ourselves, yes the world is moving digital but I believe the card must be tested and Nigerians should not be used as guinea-pig to test run the effectiveness of such technology.
The president during the media chat said he will hand over power if he loses. Do you think he is sincere about this?
I have no doubt in the President’s commitment to the peace and integrity of Nigeria. I equally have no doubt that he is a man of integrity. He is a democrat who respects the rule of law and I don’t expect him to deviate, even under the most difficult condition for him as a person. Let’s recall the Edo State election, his party lost and he congratulated his party’s opponents. In my State, Ondo, the popular party, that is Labour Party won and he congratulated us, the party lost in Osun State and the President embraced his opponent, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. These instances should not be overlooked. The man is humble, he came from a lowly background which he has not ceased from telling us, he should forever be grateful for God’s grace on him and I am sure that what he now owes his creator is to be sincere to his country.
How about the threats from former militants in the Niger Delta to make Nigeria ungovernable if he looses?
That is not the first time such threats are being made. And they were not the first to make such threat. I think what needs to be done is total investigation of these threats of war and to caution all Nigerians to be more decorous in their pronouncements. If anybody should be arrested, then we have to start from the top. We also need to note that such statement was by Jonathan’s kinsmen and was in response to xenophobic idioms of monkeys and baboons from the opposition. I think everybody needs to be cautious. Our security agents need to be proactive in their dealings with these war mongers and all of us, the Clarks, the Obasanjos, the Tinubus, the Lai Mohammeds, the Dokubos, the Buharis, the Ajulos, the Fani-Kayodes, the Junaids, the Danjumas, the Tompolos of this world need to be invited and monitored. That’s how it done everywhere.
There is leadership crisis in Labour Party. How far has it been resolved?
There is no leadership crisis in the Labour Party. Those claiming to have caretaker committees are merely wasting their time. They do not have the party paraphernalia; they do not even have support of the stakeholders, including the civil society. They are not even recognised by INEC. It is funny how desperate our friends could turn out to be, they tried to field candidates and when their nominations were rejected they turned around to make efforts to condemn all candidates but they again failed. Their foray into the party hierarchy is just meant to shore up their dwindling fortunes in the labour movement.
And I am sure they have enough forest fire to put out on their farmlands now than to continue to fan the ember of discord in our fireplace. They deserve no attention for now. Labour Party is presently preoccupied on how to bring power back to the people and we are on course.
Why is your party not fielding a presidential candidate?
Labour party is a party of the masses, the working class and their allies. It is a party founded on principle. It is not a party for sale to the highest bidder. Yes, we do not have a presidential candidate but it does not mean we did not attach any importance to the office of President. We do. The truth is, we threw it open but with certain set of criteria which candidates must satisfy. However, no candidate with such criteria came forward. So for us, it is better not to field a candidate than to field one we will regret. As for endorsing Buhari or Jonathan, we have a tradition, the committee set up has submitted its report and their recommendation must be made known to all our members before the endorsement, everybody must be carried along, we are not a party inside a brief-case like some parties. We are today the third largest and the fastest growing party in Nigeria and yes, Africa.
Is your party not bothered about the chaos that greeted the election of officers into the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, recently?
The Labour Party, as a worker-driven party, is greatly worried over the failure and alleged attempt by the former leadership of the NLC, led by Mallam Abdulwaheed Omar, to abuse the electoral process by promoting electoral malpractice. But let me state here that we are available to assist the NLC to hold a peaceful and credible election. The NLC is the hope of the common man; therefore we cannot allow it to fail.
We in the LP are saddened that the NLC could not hold a peaceful and successful transition of leadership. This should be of concern to all true lovers of democracy. The failure of the NLC to transit on the eve of Nigeria’s most important election in the past 15 years should alarm every patriot in this country. It is in this regard that we are offering to intervene and help the congress conduct a transparent and credible rescheduled election because the leadership has demonstrated that it needs all the help it could get. If left alone, the NLC might be unable to realise the objective of transparent and credible process.