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Politics Is Not All About Money, But Issues, Says Okereke



As Nigerians await March 28 general election, Dr. Nwando Ijeoma Okereke, the founder and CEO of Wake Up Call (WUC), a nongovernmental organisation that focuses on advocacy and good governance, has called on Nigerians to go out and vote for candidates of their choice. Speaking to OMIKO AWA, the WUC boss enjoined voters to go for their PVCs and never to disfranchise themselves. 

In which area of life are you doing your advocacy?  

IT is in politics and good governance. We are enlightening the people on civic rights, sensitising them on the need to be involved in the electoral process, to go out to get heir Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), to vote right and not to sell their votes for any reason. We are sensitising the public about the dangers of selling their votes; letting them to know that their votes is their power and selling it is like mortgaging their future for peanuts. 

Why do this, when you should be seeking for an elective office?   

   I was spurred to do it, as a result of the experiences I garnered while monitoring Anambra State governorship election in 2013. 

Anambra is said to be a tough political terrain, so what exactly did you see that made you come into advocacy? 

  Anambra politics is not exactly what people take it to be. In fact, the Anambra crisis most people are referring to started in 1999 with the Mbanuju, Emeka Offor, Ngige and Uba family. It is more of party issues and not exactly what people think it is. 

  However, the 2013 election went on well, despite the huge money politicians pumped into the state to influence voters. The polity was heated up to the point that many thought there would be bloodshed, but the politicians showed a high sense of maturity, knowing that if they trigger any crisis, they would set the state backwards. There was a lot of money in the 21 local government councils, yet the election was one of the finest elections in the state. We were out there telling the people never to sell their votes and to vote for the candidate they know that can perform. 

Did you see moneybags influencing 2015 elections, especially with the introduction of stomach infrastructure into politics?

   Corruption has gone deep into our politics and because of the huge money involved every Tom, Dick and Harry is now coming into it; not for service to the people, but to enrich themselves. People of no integrity are now coming out to represent their communities because they have the money to buy their way through and wide connections going for them. With advocacy groups like others and mine, people of high integrity will realise the consequences of leaving politics to those who go there to enrich themselves. And if we do not do this we shall all wake up one day to discover there will be no Nigeria. So, come March 28, we look forward to seeing the people vote in persons that would protect our corporate interest and move the country forward. It is not just voting for personalities, they should vote in those that can fulfill their campaign promises. 

All over the world, including the USA, women struggle with men to attain political positions, but in Nigeria, it seems women want to get to power on a platter of gold, do you see this happening? 

   The American society is different for our society. In America, money is not used to judge a candidate because the level of political awareness of the people is high; they vote in people on polices, manifestoes and integrity. In Nigeria, the reverse is the case, we practice money politics, and we buy and sell our votes without knowing the harm we are doing to the country and ourselves. Our politics is corrupt and expensive. Our men are seriously doing much damage to our politics and economy because they have the money to play around with; how I wish they could know that politics is not all about money, but issues. We have turned our democracy to a fun fair for moneybags. 

  Recall in1979, secondary school class teachers were involved in politics, they had no money, but some of them won the election because they had sound manifestoes. People trusted them and voted for them, but today, nobody talks of performance, nobody checks the records to define where the money used for campaigns and others are coming from; this on its own is affecting us as a nation. And since the game is money, men have thrown caution to the wind.

Is there anyway voters would not vote for personalities, in the absence of quality manifestoes?

  The two dominant parties are just playing on our emotions; they are not discussing serious issues, because we have not really pinned them down to tell us what we want them to do for us. For a few months recently hospitals, an essential social service, were shut down, yet nobody is talking about that. We should discuss the main issues and not the shadows the parties are chasing in the name of campaigns. They should tell us, how they can make Nigeria work again, regain its lost glory, industrialise the nation and settle other issues. Look at Aba, the hub of small-scale industry in the country is neglected; the people are not working because the government has failed to provide the necessary social amenities to motivate small-scale manufacturers. Obama has 10 items on his manifesto and he is following them one by one. Where are the parties’ manifestoes in Nigeria? None! And this is the reason you will find a Senator not knowing the problems of his people and not holding a town hall meeting until election period. 

How can we make politics less costly in Nigeria?

   In America people contribute to form political parties and even support a candidate. They believe in integrity and as such bring out people of integrity; in Nigeria, the case is different. And for politics to be less attractive, we must reduce the jumbo pay of our public office holders, cut down some of their personal and official allowances. Our public office holders enjoy so much luxuries, imagine some of them having chief cooks, chief messengers, etc; what are they all doing? These positions are avenue to reward some people and to squander public fund? 

 Are we as a nation learning anything from the shift in election timetable?

   It has its negative and positive sides. One of the advantages is that it calmed people’s nerves; there was this panic then that the country was going to divide and most people were afraid. Another advantage is that it has given INEC time to circulate the PVCs and some politicians to amend their fences.

Are you aware that the PVCs are yet to get to some people? 

   No election across the world is ever 100 per cent perfect. My grouse, however, with INEC is that they started late. We really need voter education to make people to know the importance of the PVC. This education will make us know why we have to participate in elections. Some people do not really know that the PVC goes beyond elections, because they could be used for other national issues.  Another thing is that some people are just fed up with what is happening in the country and as such have refused to participate in the forthcoming elections. While some are claiming they have not seen their cards when in the real sense, they did not register. And if you extend the period for one year, you will still see and hear people complain of not having their PVCs. We really need political education.

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