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2023: How Buhari can fulfill his promise on credible polls, by Ikokwu

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Ikokwu

Civil war hero and Second Republic politician, Chief Guy Ikokwu, in this interview, interrogates President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to leave a legacy of free and fair elections in 2023. The octogenarian says the President should walk the talk by first signing the amended Electoral Act whenever the National Assembly transmits the bill to him again. He also notes that devolution of powers through restructuring will make the centre less attractive, tame electoral violence and enhance the credibility of elections in the country.

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari promised Nigerians that he would work very hard to leave a legacy of free and fair election in 2023. As long standing advocate of free and fair election, what do you think the President should do for his pledge to become a reality?
If we decide to take the right steps, the first thing is for the National Assembly to send to him the bill about electronic voting, which he had refused to sign three times, so that it should be signed now not tomorrow. This is because money was appropriated on that issue and part of the money appropriated on the issue had been utilised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to develop the system and to test run the system in about three or four elections. So, they cannot say that they don’t have an electronic server system. Once he signs the electronic voting bill that is the beginning of credibility in our elections.

Nigeria is one of the countries in total disgrace as far as elections are concerned. You could see the British election, which was held on December 12, this year. The exit polls showed that the conservatives had a majority of about 86 but when the votes were counted properly, electronically or manually, by the next morning, they had a majority of 78. It was very credible and there was not one single protest anywhere in the whole of United Kingdom.

In South Africa, they held national elections this year and they called former President Goodluck Jonathan to come and serve as an observer for African Union (AU). He went there, elections were conducted and the results came out within one day. They had only one or two malpractice, which was negligible. There were no protests, no petitions and no judicial interventions. South Africa is an African country.

In the case of Nigeria, we had more than 1,000 petitions after the 2019 elections. And up till last week, the Supreme Court delivered judgment on about eight gubernatorial petitions. It’s a disgrace as far as democracy is concerned in Africa. Nigeria is not living up to its billing. So, we have to take the right steps immediately and urgently.

Are you suggesting that electronic voting is all that is required for elections to be credible in Nigeria?
I didn’t say that electronic voting is all that is required.

So, what else should the president focus on?
The political parties must come to terms with the issue of credibility. The security apparatus must come to terms with the issue of credibility. The security forces cannot intervene in elections the way they want. So, there are technical factors and moral factors. And credibility can only prevail under the axiom of rule of law.

Where there is no rule of law, anything can be bastardised. There can be no progress; there can be no democracy. Democracy survives under a rule of law and in our case we have three arms of government – the legislature, executive and judiciary. The other one is the fourth estate of the realm, which is the media. We need a media that is credible, transparent and not tied to the apron strings of any individual as such. But you can see that one of the assets most powerful politicians want to acquire is the media, whether print or electronic. And once you have this under the portfolio of individuals or specific political parties, it is difficult to get true situation of things in the polity. There must be truism in anything that has to be in the media.

There must also be clear separation of powers. The legislature must be independent to do their work. And you can see what happened in the U.S. where legislators in the House of Representatives impeached the president of the country; they have sent the proceedings to the Senate so they can do their own trial. You have the judiciary in the U.S. and when cases are referred to them, the judges try to give an impartial decision. They are humans but they have to try to do what is right.

You have seen what is happening across the world. In Iraq, they are now talking, not on religious ground anymore, but on secular issues like employment, food, security and so on. You see it also happening in Hong Kong, Sudan and so on. All parts of the world are restive because the right things just have to be done. Where they are not done, there will be no peace and where there is no peace, there will not be development.

Talking about electronic voting, do you think we have the capacity to adopt it now?
Look, INEC was given financial capacity. They had been given billions of naira for that purpose and they did a test run of it. They did it in Anambra State and two other states and of course they said it was right.

Electronic voting is that immediately you vote at the polling unit, your vote is tabulated electronically and it goes to the central server. There is no question of amendment or interference with it. We have to come up to the global standards otherwise we will bastardise our nation.

Our children today are digitally oriented. Many children now are digitally superior to their parents because their parents had been living in the analogue age. It’s only now that a lot of parents are trying to gravitate into the digital system. Isn’t that right? That is what is happening. If we try to say that it is not true, then we are living in our own blindness. When you take a cloth and blindfold yourself, you are deceiving yourself; you are not deceiving another person whose eyes are open.

Some Nigerians had proffered that an independent body rather than the president should do the appointment of the Chairman of INEC as a panacea to credible polls. Do you share such sentiment?
This is what we are saying about electoral reforms. Once you tie the independence of the electoral machinery to the apron strings of an individual, then it creates what we call a malfeasance. It is not that we don’t know these things; we know! These things have been prescribed but why are they not being fairly implemented for the benefit of the country. Why spend so much money on Justice Uwais Panel on Electoral Reforms? Why spend so much money on Nnamani Committee on Electoral Reforms? Why spend so much money on El-Rufai Committee on Restructuring?

If you don’t have devolution of powers in Nigeria, you cannot say that Nigeria is a federation. It can only be federal if there are various components which power devolves to. The centre of a democratic or federal country is like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is the people and sovereignty lies with the people. In the pyramid you have the local government at the bottom, then state government or regional government and then the federal government. So, once you implement a proper federal structure, the apex tier, which is the federal government, ceases to be at the beck and call of everybody. You won’t have people fighting or killing each other because they want to be a leader at the apex, the federal level. No! Therefore, there has to be devolution of powers and devolution of powers shows that sovereignty belongs to the people.

So, what the legislature should is to disband the 1999 constitution because you cannot have a constitution that starts by telling a lie about its originality, the people. How can the military constitution of 1999 start with ‘we the people’. Which people prescribed the 1999 constitution? You can’t start doing anything by either being blindfolded or by telling a lie about yourself or telling a lie about the competency of what you are dishing out to the generality of the public. It breeds insecurity and where there is insecurity, there will be no peace; where there is no peace there will be no development.

It is not just about elections. We are talking about things that really matter; things that will enable a nation to grow. If you have one million elections and you are still poverty ridden, it makes the rest of the world to be laughing at you. Today, all the ECOWAS countries are growing at a minimum of four per cent per annum. Nigeria is in West Africa; it is in ECOWAS but it is growing at 1.8 per cent.

And you think the reason is the concentration of power at the centre?
Yes, because we have a wrong governance structure. We are borrowing money outside this country in order to pay salaries. Election or no election, once you devolve and make the component parts autonomous, every state can pay its own workers because if you don’t pay your workers, how do you generate income? How do you develop? And any state that does not develop because it does not pay its workers even though it has been given the capacity to do so, that government must leave immediately. Power belongs to the people. These are the issues. They are not too complex. We cannot blindfold our children or ourselves.

Do you see Buhari breaking away from the norms by keeping his words?
Let me first ask you: Why did they put restructuring in the manifesto of the party? And why did they ask Governor El-Rufai to develop the restructuring template and give them a memo, which he did? Why did they start talking about state police when they know that they may not want to develop it in accordance with the restructuring manifesto? How do you form a security system that is skewed, where only one zone controls the security system of the country?

It is not an individual that makes a country. But an individual will provide leadership either by his body language, speech or action. There is that leadership factor in anything we do. Any father that does not teach his son or his daughter the correct way to do things, when that child grows up forgetting the real influence of the father or the mother, the child will become bastardised and will be doing the wrong things. It is happening in the country now; that is why we have insecurity everywhere.


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