•Politics no more a bandwagon effect
National President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof Benjamin Okaba, has said that the February 25 presidential election was the worst form of political corruption visited on Nigerians.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the former provost, Delta State University (DELSU), Oleh campus, noted that the non usage of BVAS to transmit the results of the presidential election at polling units was premeditated.
What is your take on the March 11 Presidential and the National Assembly elections?
From the reports of the international observers and from the outcries and mass protests that greeted the declaration, it is like the performance of INEC went below the expectations of the citizens of this country. If you look at the state of the nation, Nigeria is actually at the crossroads, where almost all the symptoms of a failed state have actually manifested – insecurity, infrastructure decadence, high debt burden, terrorism, etc. In the last couple of months, another burden was added to the sorrows of Nigerians – the redesign or money swap policy of the government, which was introduced to add a more dangerous dimension to the hardship of Nigerians. It was within the period we had fuel scarcity. So, if you add all these together you realise that Nigerians have experienced the worst form of hardship in the history of this country.
People expected that in the government that promised change – though they didn’t tell us the kind of change that was promised, we have come to realised that it was a negative change – the election was an opportunity for people to change the narrative and that was why there was high level of enthusiasm, as people went to collect their PVCs. People went to their villages in spite of the cash difficulties and they voluntarily cast their votes based on the promise made by INEC that at the end of the ballot from the polling units that the results would be transmitted electronically real time to avoid interception and other forms of corrupt interventions. But that didn’t take place. So, we had the worst form of political corruption visited on Nigerians and I’m sure that I’m yet to wake up from the shock of that election.
We cannot talk so much about the presidential election because the aggrieved parties have gone to court; meaning that any other forms of serious evaluation would be counterproductive.
At what point did INEC get it wrong?
With the introduction of the BVAS and other technologies, people were happy that for once that they were going to have things right, but INEC got it wrong from the point of delay in supplies of sensitive materials to some areas. Secondly, people went to vote and they expected that at the end of the voting and after collecting the result and announced to the hearing of people there, and they expected that the INEC officials at the polling units would use the codes given to them to transmit the result.
In the manner it was orchestrated, I want to believe that it was premeditated. If it was spontaneous, it would not have achieved the same level of compliance of no transmission. Any persons who think that this was premeditated, I don’t want to disagree with them.
You talked about enthusiasm for the election, but the turnout was low compared to that of 2019. This time, over 90 million people collected their PVCs but only about 27 million voted. What do you think happened?
Like I said earlier, people were disenfranchised. Firstly, so many people didn’t have cash to travel home, so they were cut off. There was fuel scarcity and where it was available it was expensive. So, how do you travel to your village and how do you go and come back when the resources are not there. In terms of enthusiasm, as many people that were available trooped out to vote. You need to go to the villages and see the queues. When you talk about PVC collection, you should also know that there were lots of reports that some high class politicians took the PVCs of so many persons. We got a report of a lady in one of the northern states with over 300 PVCs. So, if you have situations like that across the nation, what do you expect? By the records, these were people fit to vote but they are no more with their cards. These are persons that were being prepared to go voting, but they couldn’t vote because their PVCs were hijacked by people who thought that it would be the same manner where you just go and thumbprint and go as it used to happen in some places before the introduction of BVAS. They expected that they would just get the card and thumbprint and announce the result. A lot of PVCs are still in the hands of persons who are not their owners. So, if you put all these together, it is not surprising that the figures went low. When you talk about the high figures in the past, I can bet you that those figures were highly inflated. I know of a community that used to produce 26,000 votes, but with the use of BVAS for the purposes of accreditation, they could not turn up 800 votes. That is the situation we have. The current figure you have is close to the exact figures of voters in this country. Let us not take the figures of the previous elections seriously. They were highly inflated, but now we have seen the reality because the BVAS was used for purposes of accreditation. The problem was with the transmission of the result. In some places where BVAS was not used maybe there were problems, but in most places, it was used for accreditation. When BVAS was used, existing human beings voted unlike in the past when people would just bring out ballot papers and started thumb-printing.
Do you think people would still show the same interest for the governorship and state Assembly elections?
Yes. The same enthusiasm would be shown, particularly for the two major political parties – the APC and the PDP. They have sitting governors in some states, who want to retain their seats. Some are fighting to get their successors if their tenure is about to expire. These elections are closer to the people and these candidates have made various incursions into the nooks and crannies of their constituencies. The enthusiasm would be shown because in every community you have one political appointee or the other who would want to retain his position by showing that he worked.
For the Labour Party, where you have very few governorship candidates, they might also want to show that they are not only good at the level of the presidency, but they can also capture some states. It is not wrong to think that way because as the issues are in court and if tomorrow Peter Obi is made the president and no state is governed by his party that would be an embarrassment. So, I’m sure the LP will want to show that the feat accomplished during the presidential election would be repeated. If their target is for about 10 states and they were able to capture five, it is a good starting point.
You also have the House of Assembly election, which is community-based. The community knows the people; those they want to vote out and those they want to retain. That enthusiasm would be shown.
Going by INEC result, what lesson can be learnt from the presidential election where political giants lost in their home fronts in various states?
There are so many lessons to be learnt from that election. In the first place, Nigerians for once decided to take back their country and they believed that it was no longer a period of allowing anybody to just come on board; Nigerians came to the realisation that leadership is the key to development; leadership is the key to peace, and having the right leader could solve a lot of problems, and they demonstrated that. Forget about the figures compared to other figures of previous elections, there was high voter turn up in spite of the intimidation that we have in some places like Lagos and others states.
The second lesson is that the election also showed that Nigerians are getting more politically emancipated. I went with my grown up children to the village to vote. I ask them, ‘who are we voting for?’ They said, ‘daddy, we are not going to tell you because we know you are closer to so, so and so person.’ I have my own candidate.
That tells you that it is no longer a bandwagon effect, where if the family head is PDP that every member of the family must be PDP. You now saw a mix that in a family, people have different aspirations. There was also tolerance. My sons told me who they voted for and it was not the same candidate I voted for. That didn’t bring any quarrel. After the voting we entered the same car and came back home and ate on the same table. I said, well, let us see whoever wins. We are getting more educated politically and some level of tolerance.
Again, it has also humbled some politicians who think they are gods in their own right. Some people who believe that they have got so much and therefore have bought the destiny of people were humbled. I don’t want to mention names; these people were very much humbled. The aftermath of the election can be felt in the reactions of some people. I learnt that one of the governors practically was walking in the streets of major markets, shaking hands with people, begging them to vote for his party. It was not like before when you would get to a place and say, we have the money, we have the people; we have the government, take this N500, 000, whether you vote or not we are winning. I have joined people to campaign and I have seen things like that. Now the electorate will tell you that they will take your money and still vote for their preferred candidate.
You can now see that we are getting into issue-based campaigns; people are now talking about what they will do because they know that the electorate have started assessing them in terms of their antecedents, capacity and competence. So, if you go and bring up an Agbero, you would fail; if you bring up somebody that is not qualified, the person would fail and that is the kind of surprises we will see in the governorship and houses of Assembly elections. Many of them would fail and will not go back because the processes that brought them were not fair to other persons. Some persons from the major political parties have jumped to other parties because the godfathers didn’t pick them. At the end of the day, they might win those other persons. These are major lessons we have learnt. But for the way INEC managed the process, Nigerians were properly ready to take a giant step into addressing the issues of this country through getting the right leaders in the right places.
INEC said they were going to correct the mistakes made. What are your expectations from them on the governorship and State Assembly elections?
One good thing is that the INEC chairman, a thorough academic, came out and admitted the errors made and promised to right the wrongs. Let us give him the chance that the right would be done. When a fool realises that he is a fool, he becomes a wise man. We should expect that things will go better. I want to believe that whatever that was planned was limited to the presidential election. In many places BVAS used for the senatorial and House of Representatives worked, but not the presidency. Maybe the target then has always been with the presidency. For the other level of the elections, those who have done well will get themselves elected according to the choice of the people.