By Onyedika Agbedo
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu, in this interview, urges the National Assembly to repeal the Act establishing the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC). Okechukwu, who spoke against the outcome of the recently concluded local government elections in Enugu State, alleges that state governments are using the SIECs to undermine popular participation at local council elections, which is the hallmark of democracy.
Your party, the APC, sounded optimistic ahead of the just concluded Enugu LG poll but the result is indicating that it performed abysmally. Where did it get it wrong?
We sounded optimistic based on the mass exodus of members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into the APC in the last two years in the state. These include former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; former governors of the state, Jim Nwobodo and Sullivan Chime; former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Eugene Odoh and Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu, among others. They all joined the APC with their teeming supporters. It is an impressive team any day, added to some of us who are the original members of our great party. This is a historic fact, which in actual sense, made the PDP to panic and consequently withheld result sheets in almost all the polling precincts in the state.
Does it mean that the exodus of PDP members into your fold didn’t confer any voting advantage on your party on the election day?
Let me refresh your mind on how the rigging of the election started. As you know, election is a process, which predates the election day. At the inception of the administration of His Excellency, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi on May 29, 2015, the old PDP electoral phobia reared its head when against the provisions of Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Governor went ahead to appoint caretaker committee members to administer the local government councils in the state. As law-abiding citizens, we went to court to challenge the illegality on the prowl.
We trudged on until two years after and the Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) announced the election date. We filed papers for over 250 councillorship candidates out of 260 and 17 local government council chairmanship candidates. Our movement rattled PDP members. To dampen our surge, they disqualified 50 councillorship and local government council candidates. We went to court again to challenge the illegality, as there is a subsisting Supreme Court judgment, which bars the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), and by extension ENSIEC, from disqualifying anyone. Before you could say Jack Robinson, they had reversed themselves without waiting for court judgment.
Don’t you think that the result of the election is a true reflection of the will of the people given that the PDP is currently occupying all elective positions in the state?
If the result of the election is the true reflection of the will of the people, why were they hoarding the result sheets? Is it rational for anyone to sit for an exam without answer and result sheets?
But the ENSIEC claimed that they released result sheets in the afternoon to all the voting centres…
(Cuts in) In avoidance of repeating myself like an old gramophone, take Enugu State as a case study. APC members in 2016 first objected to the appointment of Caretaker Committees to administer the 17 local government councils in the state. Consequently, APC headed to court citing breach of Section 7 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Regrettably, the election came after two years, and as a result of electoral phobia, which is the tradition of the PDP, the ENSIEC disqualified 50 councillorship and two chairmanship candidates of APC. Without any legally valid option, we headed to court again and they reversed the disqualification. Then came the election day; impunity reared its ugly head again as result sheets were handed over to PDP leadership and their associates. Is this democracy?
Don’t you see the result of the election as a sign of what would obtain in 2019?
God forbid! God forbid in the sense that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) cannot descend so low into the partisan arena, as the ENSIEC did. It is ironical and the height of impunity. And let me state that this had characterised local council elections across the country since our return to democracy. It is paradoxical and painful that most state governments are debasing democracy by manipulating local government council elections and erecting rubber-stamp State Houses of Assembly in the Fourth Republic.
So, APC states are among those you are accusing of debasing democracy?
Yes! If the 24 APC-controlled states are conducting free and fair local government elections, one would have been the happiest. Our democracy could have matured and development could have been manifest. All the state governments and governors are culpable. They undermine popular participation of the people, which is the hallmark of democracy. I’m yet to locate or hear the voice of people like distinguished senators Isa Hama Misau, Dino Melaye, Shehu Sani or Enyinnaya Abaribe, in any State House of Assembly? This sends shivers down my spine. And I’m apprehensive.
My apprehension is predicated on the fact that we are in a season where majority of the political class in Nigeria are loudly singing the song of devolution of powers from the central government to the federating units. Or as some prefer to call it — restructuring. The mood of the nation is gaining the traction that the problem of the country is because of the big centre, which they see as unwieldy, immobile and corrupt. It’s just like the hype that the public sector is docile and corrupt and only the private sector can drive the economy. But when private banks failed, they set up AMCON and used public funds to bail out the private sector experts.
Today, there is no credible election at the local council levels, no robust legislature and no Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). What is the outcome? The creation of Emperors or Tsars! The governor becomes a leviathan. He is the executive, legislature and judiciary, all in one. He manipulates elections, appoints officials, allocates land and covertly mangles the judges. That’s dangerous and a deep one at that; and people are now clamouring for state police. If there was state police, my ward at Eke could have been under siege by now even though the local council election was held on Saturday, November 4, 2017.
You sound as if you are opposed to restructuring or erecting a canopy to hide from the issue?
Far from it! I’m not erecting any canopy. I’m just being rational and as much as pragmatic as any patriot can be. If you love Nigeria, take the scenario above serious. I wrote a pamphlet and x-rayed how divided my community has become because of chieftaincy tussle for over 30 years. Eke town, which is now more divided than Nigeria, is a town of five boys who by oral history expanded to become the five villages of the town today. As I had asked said before now, will becoming a region with more powers change the authoritarian tendency in some of us?
Are you not afraid that members of your party in the state will leave in droves given the poor outing at the poll?
How would they leave when the evidence on the ground has clearly shown that APC could have won more than one third of the councillorship and chairmanship seats in the state. Let me ask again, why hoard the result sheets if they were sure of the election?
Recently, over 30 political parties endorsed the local government council election as free, fair and transparent but you are singing a different tune. Who should the public believe?
Did any of the political parties, in the true sense of the word, vie or participate in the election? Secondly, was any of their members detained by the police? If yes, in which cell? Let’s not discuss Nollywood actors; man must wack, for food is ready!
What is your take on the call for the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC)?
I’m one of the advocates of the abolition or repeal of the SIEC Act, because they are neither independent nor electoral; they have never conducted any free, fair and transparent elections. They are 90 per cent plus at variance with INEC. They have lost their raison d’être.
Are you still hopeful that your party will make an inroad into the South-east?
The forthcoming Anambra State gubernatorial election is our test case. Our victory will surprise many, just as Tony Nwoye’s emergence from the primary shocked many. Our candidate in Igbo words is Ogbuagu, which in translation means killer of Lion. Nwoye will win and that will be our major inroad. The incumbent, His Excellency, Willy Obiano, will lose, because he acted the folklore Blind Man.
Let me explain. The Blind Man folklore narrates how a Good Samaritan gave a blind man an apple. Little did the blind man know that the Good Samaritan was still around the corner when somebody asked him who gave him the apple and he quipped that he stumbled on it. The Good Samaritan raged and told him, ‘when you finish that one, come and stumble on another.’ Governor Obiano was given an apple in good faith by his predecessor, ex-governor Peter Obi and when asked he said he stumbled on the apple.
Obi left N75 billion in the coffers of the state, which Obiano has been unable to account for. So, no voter with conscience will vote for him. Aside from that, Nwoye has synergy with youths. He is going to be the greatest beneficiary of the internecine feud between Obiano and Obi.