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Okoko: Weak Institutions, Lack Of Ideology Cause Electoral Crisis



Professor of Political Science and former President of the Ijaw National Congress, Kimse Okoko, in this interview with KELVIN EBIRI, in Port Harcourt, says efforts must be made to form political parties based on shared ideology and strengthen institutions involved in management of electoral processes.

Election outcomes have always been contentious in Nigeria. Would you blame politicians or INEC for the mismanagement of elections in Nigeria?

I will blame both of them, because, if the electoral commission was not fully prepared (as with the PVCs that are not available through out the country), then you can see that the problem arose from the electoral commission. 

    On the other hand, politicians create problems for the system; they create violence. It is not the electoral commission that creates violence in the units; politicians and their parties create violence in the various units and wards. So, there are issues for which you can lay blame on the electoral commission and some on politicians and their parties. 

Why has it been difficult for politicians to accept defeat, as can be seen from the avalanche of cases at tribunals after every election?

      You are right in saying that, after election, people go to court to seek redress for one thing or the other, particularly because elections have been rigged. Now, it is also interesting to point out that, in most cases, the courts have not ruled in favour of those who went to court. In many cases, those who went to court had failed. So, it is difficult, therefore, to say whether it was frivolous or it was because of the shortcoming of the judicial process. But if there is any violation of the electoral process, they can seek redress in the court. They cannot take the law in their hands because they have failed election.

Considering the relative improvement in the conduct of the 2011 general elections, did you envisage the circumstances that led to the shift in the dates of the 2015 edition?

   INEC should have been better prepared for the 2015 elections, having experienced some of these same issues they are experiencing now. We have this temporary voter card that they used; INEC should have been able to provide the PVC long before now. Shortly after the 2011 election, they should have started working on it and ensure the distribution of the PVC long before now. It is bad for us to wake up one morning to find out that some areas have not gotten their cards, and some areas have not even started registration, let alone complete the exercise. 

    Now, these are the basic building blocks for any successful electoral process. If we are not able to get these building blocks right, then every other thing that follows will be problematic and that is what we are facing now. 

     Something must have gone wrong in INEC for the commision to be faced with this kind of dilemma. And I am hoping that, with this extension of time, which I support, because if we didn’t extend it, many people would have been disenfranchised in this 2015 election (and that is completely counterproductive to deepening the democratic practice in this country).  I am hoping that they take this extension so serious and to ensure that those who are supposed to get their permanent voter cards get them, and that those who have not been registered, they register them and make the PVC available before the elections if the elections are to be meaningful, if the elections are to be credible.

    It is most unfortunate. I want to repeat again that I cannot think of any election in this country, whether the recent election or not. If you are talking of free and fair election, it can only be in relative terms because elections were rigged, and they have always been rigged in this country. 

What is your take on the threat by the APC to form a parallel government if the 2015 election is rigged?

    They are speaking for themselves. No responsible party should ever make that kind of statement, but because they know the process in the system, they are supposed to take the recourse of going to the court to seek redress. So, how can a responsible political party come out with that kind of pronouncement? It is similar to the pronouncement that one of the presidential candidates, General Buhari made when he said they will make the country ungovernable for this present administration. Yet, he is running again to be the president of this country. Surely, I will not vote for him. I cannot vote for somebody who declared he will make the country ungovernable for a sitting government. If he took Nigeria as a whole into consideration and not himself, he should not have made that kind of statement. And we have seen what has happened since that pronouncement, which degenerated to Boko Haram and the consequences of Boko Haram for the country. Recall also the political violence that swept across the northern part of the country after the 2011 election? It was because there was the position taken by one of the candidates that he was sure to win and that Jonathan has no chance to win, that was their position, and when the result came in and it was not what they thought, all hell broke loose.  

     That is what we experienced and that is why they said they will make the country ungovernable and they are saying it again in 2015 that they will form a parallel government, which means you want to make the country ungovernable; which means you are advocating anarchy in society. The same group of people, have just improved on it by hiring some miscreants in the South to mouth parallel government and so on. I won’t be surprised if the same thing happens in some parts of the country if they do not win in 2015. All they know that they must win at any cost even when the result does not reflect their desire. The idea of forming a parallel government, it was the most irresponsible statement for any politician to make. It is sad; it is unfortunate and speaks volume of the qualities of politicians in Nigeria. 

But the possibility of abuse of apparatus of State institutions by the ruling party to rig election might have necessitated the APC’s utterance?

   Nobody will like to be rigged out, but all I am saying is that there is a due process you take to challenge that result. Whether you like it or not, the courts are there. You go to court to challenge the results of election. That is the most dignified way and that is the way it is done. Not for you to say you will make the country ungovernable, not for you to say you will form a parallel government. because you are calling for anarchy. Why must you call for anarchy because you didn’t win  an election? Not everybody would have voted for you. Why are you bringing anarchy into society? So, it is again very irresponsible and unfortunate. If the elections are rigged, let them go to court. You can say the courts are not reliable, but that is what we have. What we should do is to strengthen the institutions to ensure that these kinds of cases that go to court that they will be treated as quickly as possible, even if it means creating special courts to treat electoral offences. Strengthening the institutions is the answer and not for you to say you will form a parallel government. it is completely irresponsible and unacceptable. And those who make those kind of statement should be ashamed of themselves and should not see themselves as politicians of any sort.

Is lack of ideology the reason why politicians see politics are a do or die affair?

   Political parties are the bedrock for any successful election in any system. They are to be managed by the electoral body, but if political parties are not organised in such a way that they will think of the larger society, rather than for individual selfishness, you will continue to have this kind of problem. Because, basically in Nigeria, we have political parties that are completely without any principles and I mean it. The parties are not based on any principles, they are not based on any shared values, they are not based on any ideology. There is no binding block; nothing cements the members within the party.

    They are there because they want something for themselves. They are there not because they want the good of society. In this kind of situation you can see how it can easily degenerate to lawlessness, violence and that is what we are experiencing. Look at the commotion we have now where individual members of a party can decide to move to another party without any feeling whatsoever, and these are senior members of the party where they were. All of a sudden they have the impunity to say they will stay there and will not relinquish their position, even though they had moved from their party A, which is the ruling party to party B. So, how can you have a decent system with characters like that? In the parties, there are not shared values among the members. Everybody for himself and that is the real situation in Nigeria. And after the election, it is translated to the National Assembly. You can see how they behave in the National Assembly. 

     So long as we have parties that are completely without any shared values, without any ideology, so long will politics and election in this country remain the way it is; violence, non-issue based campaigns, deceit and unruliness. That is the tragedy of the Nigerian electoral process. My advice is that let all the politicians and parties go back to the basis. Let them get together on the basis of what they share in common in the party so that the party will be seen as one that shares a common ideology and win converts from the rest of society.  They have to do that. 

    They have to form real political parties. What we have now are not real political parties. They are just make do organs to win power without any values and principles. I cannot over drum the issue of lack of ideological parties in this country because it is the heart of the problem we are facing in this country as far politics, political parties and electoral process are concerned. Those who do not belong to PDP let them go. Those who do not belong to APC, let them go. Let all those who have shared values form PDP and the other parties. Let them go back to the basis and form political parties the way they are formed in other democracies not this jungle formations we have here.

Are you confident that the INEC card readers and the PVC will help minimise electoral fraud?

      If the card reader is used it will definitely minimise, for instance, multiply voting. It is going to be a better way of conducting election. It will help in ensuring free and fair elections. The crooks in the system will still want to subvert or circumvent it, but it is a necessary stage in the electoral process. so, I am hoping that the card readers will be available in all the units. If you make it available in some units and it is not available in other units, then it is of no use. The purpose would have been defeated.  I think the card readers will be very necessary and useful in mitigating against the possibility of rigging.

Is INEC truly independent to guarantee free and fair election?

     They ought to be independent. I say so because I know that what they asked for by way of budget, they were given everything they asked for the elections. Now, if that is the case, what is going to make them not act in an independent manner? It is only if the money is not enough and they are crawling and begging for money that it will be easy to compromise the system with some people. But if the money is made available, I cannot see why you cannot assert your independence from government.

Has the campaign so far been issued based?

    Not much of issue based. There has been so much name calling, vague promises that they cannot implement. No serious debate on issues and what surprises me is that a candidate will refuse to take part in a  public debate on issues concerning election, that to me was a great disappointment. 

     It is during that debate that you will see who is firmly on ground and who is a charlatan, more or less. During debates, people conducting the debate will raise issues and the candidates will respond to those issues. Even if during the campaigns issues are not in the forefront, during the debate it will be forced to be in the forefront because those who are posing the questions will now raise important issues of the day, important issues of the future for them to respond to. It is unfortunate that one of the candidates said he cannot take part in those debates.

Is it really possible to have a credible and rancor free election in Nigeria?

      It is possible only when there are parties that are based on shared values and ideologies. Parties with principles that bind members together and not parties based on people who are there only for themselves. So long as we have the kinds of parties we have now, it is going to be extremely difficult for us to get free and fair election because many of these people that are in these political parties do not qualify to be members, they  are there because of what they can get from it. so, anything that is going to rob them from that exercise, they will fight against it and that they do. 

   They will play the spoilers game when what is coming is not in their own interest, not because it is not in the interest of the nation. As long as we have these kind of parties, so long would you have this kind of problem. 

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