Hon Oyetakin Ebenezer is the director of Research and Documentation at Anti-Corruption Network. He is the author of ‘Nigeria: A Giant in Search of Her Destiny’. In this interview, he bared his mind on the just permanent voters’ cards distribution by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), challenges ahead of 2015 general elections and other national issues.
What is your assessment of the electoral process ahead of next year’s general elections?
Well, so far, so rough because the electoral umpire itself, the INEC, is not appearing to be improving in anything. Every time they want to do anything they complain of logistic problem. And you can see that manifesting in the distribution of ordinary permanent voters’ card. So, how long will INEC be bugging their own processes? This is not instilling confidence in Nigerians to say that INEC is prepared to do the right thing. There again, the Peoples Democratic Party that is supposed to lead by example by ensuring that there is internal democracy in party practices, they are doing endorsements, giving free tickets and thereby overheating the polity on daily basis. And when you put all of these together, with the gross mismanagement of the insurgency, they are affecting our resolution to conduct free and fare elections. But the most important thing is that we should appeal to INEC to behave right and both PDP and APC should see themselves as partners in progress; that election is intended to be won and lost. And if you lose election, you should work to run another time. No party should think is their right to perpetually be in power. These are the things we must continue to contend with. In United States where we borrowed our democracy from, we saw that the United States has two prominent political parties, the Democrat and the Republican. We see that a new political party has emerged and is trying to create a balance of contest. There should be unnecessary tension. And that is the tension that the PDP is imposing on Nigerians with the emergence of APC; it is not the APC that is creating the tension, it is the resistance to change from the PDP that has gotten accustomed to power after 16 years.
Don’t forget that it was the PDP government that allowed the registration of the APC. How would that turn round to be an issue for them?
The truth of the matter is that they did not allow the registration of APC. APC was having people too formidable to handle by them. Number one, you remember that they never registered APC until the last day, on 4th of July 2012 and if they did not register it that day and INEC did not pronounce it registered, INEC itself would have entered into constitutional crisis and APC would have automatically be known to law as registered. That was what happened. They did it 12 hours to that elapsing. And you know that PDP, through their frontiers and cronies, was there throwing up multiple acronyms of APC left and right. Those were the things. Now, when you have such contradictions, you should know that it is because the system is resisting a change.
But today, I think Nigerians should be very happy that there is a balance of contest. The dominance party, the PDP is having 19 governors, the APC is having 16. So, when they go into election in 2015, Nigeria can expect surprises. I’m not saying that I’m endorsing APC or endorsing PDP, but I said Nigerians should rejoice that there is alternative, there is choice to make.
In the build up to the 2015 general elections, how will this balance of contest you talked about come to play out?
It is going to play because each of the parties has the capacity to man every polling unit effectively and defensively in terms of defending their votes. In 2011, the CPC that was the close party to PDP in that presidential election, particularly, had no enough manpower and they registered that party nine months to the presidential election. That party had no single counselor, but today with the amalgamation and emergence of APC, that party is having numbers of local government chairmen, counselors, House of Reps members, Senators and what have you, including 16 governors. It is impossible to rig such people’s election because they will defend their elections. So, the political system, both PDP and APC must adjust to ensure that come 2015 they allow Nigerians to make the choice of right leaders that will lead them out of these challenging moments.
What is your view on issues relating to inducement of voters with what is now regarded as stomach infrastructure as there have been accusation and counter accusation in this regard, particularly between PDP and APC as witnessed in Osun and Ekiti states elections?
Now, let me say this without fear or favour: where the fish got rot is from the head. For the past 16 years, PDP has been at the central government. If democracy is not getting better, it is because they have not been behaving appropriately and you definitely know that in the case of Osun and Ekiti, the security intimidation that took place in Ekiti State and security intimidation that was imposed; over 93,000 everything that can carry gun were mobilized to the tiny state of Osun. This is not how to practice democracy; a democracy of intimidation is not what Nigeria needs at this time. But just as you rightly asked, anybody who collected ‘stomach infrastructure’ – rice, N5,000.00, N10, 000.00, or what have you, in order to vote, it is unfortunate. Such people are eating the future of their children unborn. I think, you the press people would have to educate people in the Nigerian society to understand this because when they give you those things, they will collect it back. In the case of Osun State, they were distributing a bag, a gallon of kerosene, a gallon of vegetable oil and N10, 000.00; and when somebody does that to you, he is only buying your future. So, people can collect those money or those materials and still vote their conscience.
What is your advice to INEC in its preparations ahead of the 2015 general elections?
That is why I said we have to beg INEC, because the way INEC has been behaving under Prof. Jega is like what the lawyers will say, descending into the arena. When an umpire descends into an arena, you cannot have a fair play. For example, INEC deregistered numbers of political parties and Fresh Democratic Party went to court and the judgment was that it remains a political party and they should be restored and the Electoral Act, section 78, upon which they based the nullification of those political parties was also nullified by that court. Till today, that stands as the current state of the law, but INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega and his national commissioner, a Political Scientist, who understands the fact that even if it is not a total adherence to established constitutional order of a nation, it is a call to anarchy. INEC has refused to recognize that court order. There was a court order that said there will be no election in Adamawa State, because it suits the power that be, INEC lost their independency and immediately said, ‘well, there is a court order’ and they obeyed the court in Adamawa because it suits the power that be. So, INEC that we see today is a compromised institution that must liberate itself and show to Nigerians that they are out of the Arena it has descended.