By Chukwudi Nweje

Presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), in the 2023 general election, Prince Adewole Adebayo says the process and outcome of the 2023 general elections show that Nigeria is yet to attain a credible election process. He blames the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for focusing on introduction of technology when it should have built on integrity and credibility of the process. He spoke on various issues.

The 2023 general elections have been concluded, except for the few cases of inconclusive ones and the off-season state governorship polls coming up later in the year, in November; what is your assessment of the process and outcome?

My assessment is that looking at the five pillars of democracy, it does not appear that we are ready for proper elections in Nigeria. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as the electoral umpire, did not appear as if it was ready to follow its own rules; its emphasis was on technology rather than on integrity and credibility of the process. In an October 1, 2021, speech, two years before the election, I said that putting emphasis on technology and server without dealing with the integrity and credibility of the electoral process will be a waste of time, and that was what happened on election day. The political parties on their part did not make any attempt to do things right, all they did was to bypass the rules and steal the votes; the law enforcement agencies were more interested in commercialising the process, aiding, and abetting political parties that are friendly with them and their loyalty was to the parties that paid highest rather than to the country. The media on its part did not report fairly and was engaged in narratives and dedicated coverage for certain political parties; it did not play the role of the fourth estate of the realm. The fifth and most important pillar of democracy, the people did not vote according to their suffering and how to remove it, they voted according to who gave them money. The people now crying over the outcome of the election are hypocrites, they cry because the outcome did not favour them; if it had favoured them, they would have been quiet. We missed our opportunity to make a clean election.

Off season state governorship elections are scheduled to be held in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States on November 11, 2023. What changes do you want to see in the electoral process to make it better than the just concluded elections?

We need a total overhaul of the mentality of Nigerians. It is not only the election that goes wrong on election day in Nigeria; every other thing we do goes wrong, it is the same character and attitude, whether it is students in the examination hall or an attendant at a filling station, the tendency is that they will cheat, there is a basically dishonest attitude in everything we do as a society but on election day, we expect that the dishonesty will disappear? People want to get a clean election out of an unclean mind? It doesn’t work that way. The best thing to do is to embrace the truth of what happened, the people who won should admit openly like President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did that the process was flawed; those who lost should also admit their own role in cheating because all those votes allocated to even the person who came second and third are not legitimate votes.

Ahead of these elections, INEC should clear the mess on the ground, INEC should cooperate with the litigations and not show interest in who wins, their interest should be in getting the process right.

The political parties are also telling a lot of lies in some of the petitions that I saw. I am depressed about the press because it seems they don’t understand it is a quasi-arm of government, in fact the largest estate of the realm is the press, and its tenure does not expire; the constitutional duty given to the press is almost equal to that given to judges, and they should live up to the responsibilities.

The Vice-Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Dr. Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed is of the view that going with the result announced by INEC that Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) cannot be legitimately declared winner because he did not meet the constitutional requirements of winning at least 25 per cent of votes cast in 24 states of the Federation and the federal capital territory (FCT), what do you say?

I think that is part of what the Labour Party tabled in court but as far as I know, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed is not a lawyer so I can excuse him, perhaps that is what his lawyers told him. I hope that is not the most important part of their petition because if it is the most important part of the petition, then they should prepare to lose.

You are a lawyer, what is your professional view of winning 25 per cent of 24 states and the FCT, would you mind enlightening the common man?

I don’t think the common man wants to be enlightened on this issue, they are just repeating it with the hope that it will stick. Lawyers are advocates and not interpreters, they will first choose a side and then start making arguments around their position. The FCT is mentioned because the framers of the constitution did not want the people in the FCT to be without representation.

We have something similar in the United States of America where in the computation of majority votes for the presidency, people in Washington DC are not considered in the Electoral College, they are in the popular vote but not in the Electoral College, so they are not part of those who decide the choice of the President. What we did in Nigeria’s constitution is to say that any time the states are counted the FCT should be counted, so if someone requires 24 states to win and he wins 23 states plus the FCT the FCT is counted as a state. If the person has more than 24 states then it doesn’t matter whether the FCT is there or not, I don’t think people should be worried about that.

The people are one of the pillars of democracy you mentioned earlier, the number of registered voters in Nigeria grew from 84 million in 2019 to 93 million in 2023, a feat attributed to the continuous voters’ registration and some diaspora coming back to register, but available data show that actual voters fell from 34.75 per cent in 2019 to about 25 per cent in this 2023 election, what do you say about that?

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I am impressed that 25 per cent came out for three reasons. First in this election period accreditation is verified electronically and cannot be faked unlike the previous elections. You can refuse to accredit some people and claim the BVAS machine is faulty, but you cannot increase the number of people accredited; second in this election issues that pertain to people were not highlighted. Some people may have come out based on it is my turn, it is the turn of the Yoruba, or it is the turn of the Igbo or Christians or the South. These limited sentiments will not bring out the best, it is better for all sheds of opinion to be openly litigated during an election; thirdly, the government unleashed every kind of socio-economic indignity and hardship on the citizens two months before the election. I can assure you that more than half of the about 25 per cent that came out was because they came out to collect money.   

Are you implying that the harsh economic situation before the election was deliberate and meant to sway the votes in a certain direction?

They said it themselves; the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) gave three reasons for the redesign of the currency notes. First was that the money outside the banking sector was too much, second was that money was used for criminal activities and thirdly that some of the money had gone beyond their shelf life and needed to be recalled. But subsequently the Federal Government came out to say it was to curb vote buying so it was to influence the election.

Another pillar of democracy is credibility and neutrality of the electoral umpire, now INEC promised a lot and delivered very little, what do you say to that assertion?

I said before the election that INEC was over promising while leaving the critical success factors unaddressed. The conduct of INEC officials was questionable. Before the election, some of them were going around offering their services to help political parties to help them block the server. It is not a particular fault of Prof Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman but a general fault of everything that requires independence, neutrality, and fairness in Nigeria; we don’t have enough men and women with sufficient character to maintain that. We now discover that a system that was designed to give INEC technical audit is now weaponised against it. BVAS worked for the most part, you can also now go to the IRev and get almost any information you want but it is a process of garbage in, garbage out. INEC did not live up to expectations but neither did the political parties or the media or the security agencies. Election is a collective effort and every adult in the country is a participant.

One thing that came out of the 2023 election is that more political parties have come to the limelight, not just the APC and the PDP. Would you say it is deepening of democracy in Nigeria?

No, it is a sign that the political elite is no longer limited to two franchises, they are now able to spread out. These people who won elections on the new platforms have been part of the older parties.

Labour Party is the Christian and southern arm of the PDP that broke out because of what they perceived to be an attempt by the other group to take their turn from them, some went into Labour, some became G5 and some stayed behind in the PDP to tackle the usurper from within.

You have heard Labour Party talk about an Okada rider winning a House of Representatives’ seat, but the man is an experienced politician who had played various roles at the local government level in the PDP. Alex Otti, who won the governorship poll in Abia State is the most experienced politician in that election and he had been in the PDP and APC. In Anambra State, Victor Umeh who was elected Senator was a former national chairman of APGA, and a Senator of the party, Tony Nwoye another Senator-elect was former chairman of PDP in Anambra State and later went to APC, it is not as if they are new to politics.

In the SDP we are happy to see our candidates win but those who won are also experienced politicians who came from other parties. There is nothing new in this, it has not deepened democracy but created a multi partisan political elite.

Now that the elections are over, what is your message to Nigerians?

The elections are over, it is time to govern, none of the political parties will agree that their elected candidates will not take office. All the inter-ethnic violence must be ended; the people who won elections should ensure that they bring changes to the situation of the country.

One of the administrations I criticised the most is that of President Muhammadu Buhari but out of it we got the second Niger bridge. We have also managed to amend the constitution and attain some restructuring, so it is possible for a determined state government to go into power generation without relying on the Federal Government; it is possible for a state to build railways throughout their domain. I think the incoming government should improve on this; it is now time to face governance.