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‘Violence has no room in democracy’



IN this interview with BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE in Abuja, Babafemi Ojudu, a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) who represents Ekiti Central Senatorial District at the Upper Legislative Chamber speaks on the heat in the polity and other issues as Nigeria approaches this month’s elections. Excerpts:

On the mounting tension and apprehension over the coming elections.

  What we can do on the part of our party is to tell Nigerians that we as APC are preparing for elections, not war. We are also appealing to the PDP to prepare for elections and not war. Election period in a democracy is like a celebration. We should be celebrating democracy and not fight about it. It is when some people are desperate and they exhibit that desperation that they begin to drive people towards apprehension and fear. We keep appealing to people to be calm and that if we go to this polls and PDP wins freely, we will congratulate them but if we also win freely, PDP should congratulate us. The thing is that we should all play by the rule. If we all play by the rule, there will be no problem.

Implications of not playing by the rules

  That is the reason the courts are there. That is where the Constitution provides for means of redress. If we find out that anything has gone wrong in the process of casting votes or in the process of adding the votes and giving us the results, we will speak out and we will go through the process as contained in the Constitution. We do not advocate violence in our party; we are not a violent party. That is the reason we like to talk and canvass our positions. That is the reason we have our manifesto and that is the reason we always speak out, not with cutlass; we speak with our mouth and we speak with our pens and our computers. For us, guns and machetes have no room in a democracy.

People relocating because of post-election violence

  I do not think it is anything new. I believe it does happen. I do not have statics of the magnitude of relocation of people but what I do know is that in the past, as elections approach, people normally leave their places of abode for their places of birth. The reason is partly because some of them want to go and vote at home and partly because some are apprehensive that there might be violence after election. I do not know if the magnitude is higher now than before but I feel it is a regular occurrence when elections are coming.

Benefits and likely challenges of Card Readers 

  Card Reader is about transparency. It is about openness and it will disallow rigging. We are all aware that about a year and three months ago, INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega fixed February 14 for the elections and made it clear that we were going to use the Card Reader. The Senate had money made available for it as contained in INEC’s budget. The government was aware, PDP was aware and the APC was also aware. Why is it that when the rescheduled elections are few weeks away, some people are kicking against the Card Reader. You should also remember that the issue of Card Reader was not raised until after the postponement of February 14. Because we accepted the postponement and people complained without fighting, they have come up again trying to shift the goal post and complaining about the Card Reader. Why should anybody reject what all of us believed in and accepted as good for our democracy? Jega came to the Senate and the use of Card Reader was demonstrated. Both the PDP and APC Senators agreed then that it was best for the country. So, why would anybody not want it again? Of what benefit would it be to PDP if the use of the Card Reader were dropped? Why would something that is transparent be rejected by the PDP if they were not up to something sinister?

Efficiency of Card Readers

  The ones they brought to the Senate for demonstration functioned so well and we were glad to hear from Jega that it takes a maximum of 30 seconds to accredit each person that shows up at the polling booth.

It is a process of accreditation, not voting. You bring your card, the Card Reader reads it and confirms whether you are the right owner or not. That is all.

On allegations and counter-allegations of rigging plans by PDP and APC

  Of course, most APC members have first hand knowledge of what PDP has been doing since 1999. They understand the workings of the election and how PDP plays its game. That is the reason we are concerned. Thank God we now have former top members of PDP with us in APC. They are informing us about what PDP used to do in the past and that is the reason everybody is keen in using the Card Reader. That is the reason they said we should insist on using it because without it, there are other things that could be done to rig the elections.

We do not rig in APC. We do not know about rigging. Why did PDP not tell the world about it if they knew of such an attempt? They are the people in power. If APC has done anything wrong or has perfected any system of rigging and they have information, let them arrest and prosecute those involved. When you are in government, you do not just work on the basis of rumour. You have the Director of States Service, you have the Police and you have all the security agencies under you. 

  What we are sure of is that we have supporters across the country and they are loyal, they are very passionate about our candidates and their request for change. It is this unprecedented loyalty and support for us that drive PDP’s fears and make them go from one mistake to the other.

Impact of the social media on Nigeria’s democracy

  The process of information has been democratized unlike before when it could take about three days to learn about what happens today. This time, people get to know about events as they happen. It is a minus for dictators. When there is information in the public place, it is difficult for dictators to commit crimes. As a journalist, I think the emergence of the social media is good for democracy. Although there are some grey areas where people churn out falsehood but again, that can be managed. For me, social media has done well for democracy.

Fear that Nigeria might not exist beyond 2015

  I will advise Nigerians, especially politicians to remain patriotic and think more of the good of the majority and work assiduously to ensure that Nigeria remains one, that Nigeria remains great and that Nigeria remains a country that its citizens can be proud of. If the leaders of the country refuse to provide for the citizens, if there is no justice and fair play, if millions of our young people are not in school, if millions of our people go to bed every night without food, if Nigerians continue to flee abroad to work as slaves, some people will pray for Nigeria to disintegrate. But if we work hard for our people and show that this land is a place where everyone no matter his tribe and religion can be proud to have come from because government can take care of their needs, why should we not want to be together?

  Refusal to re-contest for Senate and fear of alleged Fayose’s intimidation

 I am just fed up with the whole system and I do not feel fulfilled by what I do here. I always try to enjoy what I do but when it gets to a level where I do not enjoy it anymore, I resign. I was in my late 20s when I resigned my appointment with the Concord upon my disagreement with late Chief M. K. O. Abiola over a story that was published in our magazine. I have looked at it, I have assessed it and I have asked myself if I am happy doing what I am doing and I say no, it is not so. So, why should I want to come back?

No, I did not drop out for fear of being intimidated or frustrated by my state governor. Yes he is not stable, but I was not a Senator when I organized his impeachment during his first time in office when he started doing all kinds of ugly things. I was a journalist. I took six months off my job and went to organize his impeachment. I also defeated him in the Senatorial race in 2011 with about 48000 votes. Why should it be now that I will be afraid of him? I just looked at the whole thing and felt I am not too sure this is where I want to be if I want to do great things for my people.

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