By Agatha Emeadi
Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia, a lawyer, is a politician, one-term deputy governor and Senator of the 9th National Assembly, representing Jigawa North East Senatorial District under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In an interview with the Sunday Sun, Hadejia spoke on the just-concluded 2023 general elections,the aftermath, restructuring and leadership, among others. Excerpts:
The 2023 elections have come and gone, but its effects are yet to settle especially the presidential election that was allegedly mired with controversies. Many have condemned and called it a sham, while some others have commended it, what is your take?
Well, I do not think there is any competitive election that will not generate controversy. Nigerians typically do not accept defeat easily, it used to be very bad because of the quality of elections we had, but I think as elections are getting a bit more refined, the agitation is reducing. For example, in 2019 after the elections in Jigawa State, we waited for results for three weeks for any petition to come from the tribunal, but there was no single petition that was instituted at the tribunal. So, if you have generally free and fair elections, the chances of noise making will be reduced. Again, if we say we will condemn election because somebody claimed that he is in doubt, we can just take a clue from what happened in the US in 2020; 74 million Republicans voted for Donald Trump, as at today, if one takes a poll, it is discovered that over 70 per cent of them believed Trump won the election and it was stolen from him; do we now say that election was not free and fair?
Somehow, most Nigerians were highly disappointed by the conduct of INEC, what do you think about the integrity of the highly rated institution? The outcome of the elections has made Nigerians lose confidence in INEC?
For me, I do not think the integrity of INEC has been compromised in any way because we are being very unfair to INEC which has come a long way. People forget very easily that in 1999-2003, we had elections under certain chairman of INEC that produced a 100 per cent turnout and 100 per cent winning in favour of one party; go and check the results of Rivers 2003 gubernatorial and presidential election, when the result came out, 97 per cent came out and voted for a particular party, there was no invalid vote, nothing. We have a situation in this country where people who were taxi drivers in United States were brought back and issued Certificate of Return. Meanwhile, they were not even aware that election took place in Nigeria, but certificates were issued to them. We have moved from that situation to a situation where it is almost impossible for one to rig elections. Nigerian elections are rigged during accreditation. But we did not have biometric accreditation during our own point in time, so elections are held either a night before with all the thumb printed voters’ card where everybody came out to vote; or on the day of election all the unused ballot papers are thumb printed in favour of one or the other, but now all that are impossible. In the recently concluded election, there was card reader and BVAS; yet people that are condemning this election are doing so out of the ignorance of the Electoral Act. Everybody is giving his or her own interpretation, the crux of the matter is the transmission of the result. Go and look at the Electoral Act, there is no where it is stated that INEC should transmit result on a real time basis, it is not even possible to do that because we are not doing electronic voting. The law says that INEC should use BVAS to accredit; then the results that are even uploaded are not raw results, they are the pictures of the manual result sheets. What is happening in Abuja at the collation centers was just a show. The results have just been compiled and everyone knew the result. Most parties have their situation rooms, they also have their agents taking the pictures with their phones and sending results to their situation rooms. So, most of these people making noise are aware of the result and now they are using the excuse of transmission; nobody has compelled INEC to transmit result. The compulsion is for INEC to maintain an electronic database of result where interested parties can ask for digital copies which INEC would certify and give to them in case they are going to the tribunal and INEC has complied with that. The uploading of the result even if one looks at the Electoral Act is a gradual process; nobody anticipates that everything would be uploaded at the same time. If you have an electoral ward with polling units, all the polling units will start and finish their elections at different times, so people are ignorant of the Electoral Act and giving various interpretations. Note that not everything you read in the newspaper or hear people discuss on television are true. Therefore, going to the tribunal and getting justice, there is no other option other than the constitution and the law; one would go to the tribunal and end up at the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal; depending on which level of the election. The burden of proof when one alleges that there were election malpractices is on the petitioner and it is a very difficult burden to proof. If one has a margin of three million votes, it is not enough for you to go and say that a polling unit result is questionable or a whole ward result had been destroyed, even if you have to take out those polling units that has been tampered or rigged out, the number of potential votes are enough to upset; most of the time you see results being overturned is simply in occasion of margin being very close, so that if you prove in several polling units or local governments and the tally is done, you get your result. If you have enough evidence to wipe away about 1.5million votes, please go ahead by all means. One would be surprised that by the time you go to the election tribunal and start seeing the evidence of rigging and voter suppression to my knowledge will actually be coming out from the areas where the petitioner has won. You cannot eat your cake and have it; you cannot have a situation where you win in states where you would not have made an impact, or you win senatorial seats and lose the presidential and get to court to inform them that senatorial election was okay, but I want my presidential cancelled. No, it does not work that way. Question of justice is not automatic especially when you lose an election and go to the tribunal, you have to ensure that what you are going to prove will be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and you would have proven that there are enough discrepancies in the election result to wipe out the margin between you and the opponent.
With the entrance of Labor Party and its political equation change, should they be watched in recent elections?
You are absolutely right that the Labour Party’s entrance has changed the political equation so much; but I do not want to put judgment on the impact of Labour Party on the national polity until I see the outcome of all the gubernatorial polls. I know there will be some surprises because presidential polls are one thing, and gubernatorial polls are another, it depends on the part of the country you go to, some people give more credence to governorship election because it is closer to them. Presidential poll in the course of the build up to election, the polity was mired in all sorts of divisive practices, religion played a role; for example, if you look at the role of the Labour Party, you can obviously see that religious card were being played. That might not be applicable in other elections. So, I will not hold judgement on that until I see the outcome of the gubernatorial election. I am also certain that the Lagos State election will be a far cry from what we saw at the presidential. So, when the dust is settled, we will see what happens. It is one thing to ride the popular wave and get to where you are, it is also another to sustain it. I have actually played opposition politics which is very difficult to maintain like the Labour Party, they have to maintain that tempo that has brought them to where they are. If they continue to play ethnic and religious cards, I can assure you that they will lose out.
Are you of the opinion that without restructuring Nigeria, even the best leadership will not deliver, what do you say to this?
For me, the issue of restructuring is neither here nor there, we went through the process of constitutional reforms and public hearings in the state, you will be surprised that some of the people who are agitating for restructuring, if you ask them their idea and how they want the country to be restructured, you will be surprised that most of them do not know. I then asked, what do they want about reform? Some of the issues we are talking about reform have not been given a chance, have not been tried, so what are we talking about reform? My take is that we have a leadership issue in Nigeria to be very honest with you because the kind of competence and capabilities that we should have in leadership which is expected to take us to the Promised Land has been missing and if we like, restructure this country into 60 different components, if we have lackluster leadership, we will not get out of the woods. We need leaders that will do the right thing, focus on the economy, take this country out of doldrums, give people a sense of direction because they are tired. If you have a leader who is doing the right thing, impacting on the lives of her citizens, nobody gives a hoot about restructuring or whether the leader comes from one side of the country or another. It is a question of leadership, not about restructuring.
What is that one problem you think Nigeria has and what plausible solution can you offer?
The problem with Nigeria is almost what I said earlier, the need for credible, competent relationship that will build without sentiment and focus on competence, unexploited capabilities and potential opportunities that we have missed. Again, taking a very hard look at governance in Nigeria, budgeting process, size and structure of civil service and take some very difficult decisions. For political dispensations, our two term political dispensations create its own problem. I am an advocate of one-term presidency, give somebody six or seven years so that he is not pulled back by the thought of re-election so he can take the difficult decisions. I have a lot of faith in the new government that is coming in. It is very rare to see a president campaigning, being asked difficult questions and he gives honest answers. President-elect Tinubu said he will do away with subsidy and this is what this present government has been dancing around with, even if you look at the budget for 2023, they provided for subsidy for the next two or three months. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) outlawed subsidy, because they thought it was a political issue, they played around it. Then, for somebody who boldly says, forget it, I will do away with subsidy, these are the kind of courageous leaders that we need, somebody who will take the bull by the horns. Then again, let us look at re-organizing and restructuring the civil service; we cannot afford the situation where we are spending over N8 trillion on recurrent, paying civil servants who will now superintend a budget that is less than the capital budget, their overhead. There is more to Nigerian than the number of civil servants, we have over 200 million people. So, I think the problem is leadership. We need leaders who can take some hard decisions especially on reforms in the Petroleum and Monetary policies, all these dual exchange rates rubbish have to go away. If you take combination of what we are losing to maintain dual exchange rates, paying trillions in subsidy, when they are combined, the public did not need to borrow what we borrowed to keep this country going. So, we need visionary leadership, a leader who will look into our eyes and tell us we will take some hard decisions which will be hard in the beginning, we all have to sacrifice.
What agenda would you want to set for the incoming president?
I think the man has set out his agenda even before he was elected. I said earlier that surprisingly, before election, the man talked about the removal of subsidy which is very sensitive and dear to the hearts of Nigerians, his take on the fiasco of de-monetization exercise where he was bold enough to disagree with the policy and said if given chances, he would do something about it. Again, listening to him talk to the business community, the kind of vibes I got are very encouraging. I think the man has his own agenda. I do not think there is anything wrong with his agenda, though contributions can come later. Let us focus on steering and directing in the right direction, policies and competence that will have impact. Let us also focus on putting together a team that will have task of delivering these objectives and if they fail, we have the courage to change them. You cannot have the same set of ministers for eight years despite the failure we have in some places. I do not think it can happen under a Tinubu presidency. The man has his own agenda; I cannot add anything to it.
Based on calls from notable Nigerians, do you think the INEC chairman should resign?
For INEC chairman to resign? I do not think so. I rather think that INEC has been giving an unfair treatment by Nigerians looking at what is happening. All these noise about INEC is borne out of absolute ignorance. People are hiding under the cover of transmission of result, giving their own interpretation of Electoral Act and nobody is looking at the fact that with BVAS, accreditation process, accreditation being sent wirelessly to servers; all these are challenging. The electoral process has been transformed in Nigeria whether we like it or not, unless one is too young to remember how elections were done in Nigeria and ask the chairman should resign. There is no election that is perfect in the whole world including the top democracies of the world. We still have issues surrounding the American election where over 40-50 per cent of the country do not believe that election was credible; it was an insinuation. But in Nigeria, we have come a long way, what the BVAS and accreditation process has done to election sanctity in Nigeria is not comparable to anything in Africa. The technology we are deploying now are not in some of the Western democracies yet, people complain which I see as a total lack of understanding and their expectation which were not held by INEC. In fact, INEC went on air and said they would do real time transmission of results when they knew they could not; one does not use technical terms like that. When one says real time, it connotes instantaneous, which means something would happen immediately; there is nothing like real time transmission of result because it is only at electronic voting environment can you have your votes being sent or transmitted as results to collation centres, we do not have that. INEC will upload result on a continuous basis that connotes it will take time and that is the essence of the Electoral Act. It does not say that you will wake up at 6:00p.m and see all the results there. What the law compels INEC to do is to ensure that all the results are digitalized and warehoused in a server where people can access them, then if you are going to tribunal, you can ask INEC to print out and certify the results if their fees are paid. I do not think it is fair to ask the INEC Chairman to resign coming from where we are. Elections are getting credible in Nigeria, if not they will not have the diversity they have. You will not have Labour Party having the kind of road-way they had in the nation’s electoral map. It is simply not possible. What we have now is to focus on internal democracy.