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Success of 2023 general elections depends on INEC’s sincerity, says Bribena

By Obire Onakemu
15 November 2022   |   4:28 am
The build-up to the 2023 general elections seem to be on course if INEC is ready to live-up to its responsibilities. To a large extent, the BIVAS and electronic transmission of results will help to check malpractices.

Efiye Bribena

Pastor Efiye Bribena, secretary of the Ijaw Elders Forum and an advocate of equity and justice, spoke to OBIRE ONAKEMU on how the 2023 general elections can give birth to a new Nigeria, true federalism and solutions to crisis in the Niger-Delta.

Are you satisfied with INEC’s preparation for the 2023 general elections?
The build-up to the 2023 general elections seem to be on course if INEC is ready to live-up to its responsibilities. To a large extent, the BIVAS and electronic transmission of results will help to check malpractices. In 2019, we saw a situation when INEC came out to say they didn’t have a server and allowed many things to happen. We hope that will not happen again in 2023. If the results are transmitted the way they are structured, it will go a long way in checking malpractices and also, if the security agencies are able to prevent buying of votes, that will help in having good election.

In other words, the future of this country is in the hands of INEC. If the electoral body holds a free and fair election in 2023, there is hope for Nigeria, but if they allow themselves to be used to rig election, then Nigeria might not remain the same. The good thing is that there is a widespread opinion by Nigerians on how to achieve good governance through that election. People are more conscious discussing the issues and for once, voters are excited about voting and allowing their votes to count. So, it is left for INEC to play its role.

A Northern governor was reported to have said the election is going to be a two-horse.
Is he saying that it is going to be a two-horse race between Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu? That is fallacy; it cannot be a two-horse race. In terms of what we see and what is going on, two of them may likely come distance second and third in the race. They may not likely be anywhere near winning the election. In terms of the optics and what we see around, their capacity of winning the election is very limited.

If neither Atiku nor Tinubu wins, the election, don’t you think the election could be annulled like that of June 12, 1993?
Let them try it, you can’t stop them but they will contend with the people. This is not June 12, 1993 election; this will be 2023 where the political climate is completely different. Any attempt to annul the results or create a state where the election cannot hold will only prove to be disastrous for the nation. And I don’t think anybody would like to walk that path.

Don’t you fear that competence could be sacrificed for money in determining the winner of the election?
I don’t think so, if INEC does its job; money cannot determine who will become the next President. One cannot use money to influence the results and if anyone wants to buy votes, it will be limited. How many voters can you induce?

You see what is going on, people are spending their own money to hold rallies and meetings for a candidate instead of a candidate paying for people to organise rallies and all that. So, it is not the financial strength of a candidate that will determine who will win the election, the electorate are interested in determining who becomes the President.

How would you task the political class on the need for a new Nigeria?
We have not seen the new Nigeria yet; what we have is still the old political class that is still calling the shot. Now, the struggle is how to get the old brigade out so the new brigade can come in. We expect next year’s election to give birth to a new Nigeria and new political class.

There is persistent clamour for true federalism; will it solve Nigeria’s challenges?
That is the only hope that we have in resolving problems confronting the country. It is true that true federalism will address issues of inequality, injustice and development of Nigeria. With true federalism, constituent units will be given the opportunity to manage their affairs just like we had in the First Republic. With true federalism, different federating units will be able to develop at their own pace and maximise their resources for the benefits of their constituent units.

Unlike now where we have a system that is so unjust and inequitable, where people are only interested on what they can get out of the centre and nobody is making any effort to develop the resources that they have for the benefits of their people.

Everyone is just interested in what they can get, even oil producing states are not managing the resources of their states; they see whatever they get as a largess from the Federal Government and they just fritter it away. But under true federalism, that would not happen because they would be more accountable to their people.

A N4.5 billion pipeline surveillance contract was awarded to the former leader of Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo. Will that check oil theft in the country?
Awarding contract to Tomplolo or any other person is of no interest to me because it is just a means of securing oil being stolen by the Nigerian State and its representatives. How does the award of surveillance contract remediate the environment? How does it create the infrastructure needed to develop the area? How does it compensate the people and communities terribly affected by oil exploration activities? How does it address the environmental injustice suffered by the people of the Niger Delta? If the pipeline surveillance contract addresses the issues raised above I will be open to discussing it.

There was a time former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a letter to Chief E. K. Clark that ownership of oil resources in the Niger-Delta region belongs to the Federal Government. Do you agree?
Not at all, the world is under international laws. The roots of title of lands reside with the people. And if one should trace the root of title, one can only come to the conclusion that the land and the resources belong to the people, the community where all those resources reside.

So, it is abnormal for the Federal Government to appropriate resources of the community to itself. It’s just like the Water Resources Bill that they are trying to promulgate; basically it’s the same thing where the Federal Government wants to own the waterways and the adjoining lands for themselves.

True, it is totally unacceptable for one to say that oil belongs to the Federal Government. Yes, by law; but it is an evil law. The Constitution and the PIA that give oil to the Federal Government is not just.

According to the UN declaration of human rights, you have a right over your land and over your properties. So, it is an unjust law for the Federal Government to appropriate oil resources of the Niger-Delta to itself.

Can you predict how Nigeria will be after President Muhammadu Buhari?
A lot of destruction has been done to the country in the past seven years; Buhari’s administration has largely destroyed the country. All the indices of development are on the downward trend. Governance has been next to nothing.

So, a lot will depend on the outcome of the election, whether we would give the opportunity for the nation to be repaired or whether the destruction will continue.

Nigeria is at the precipice; on the downward slope, sliding dangerously towards anarchy and the truth is that if nothing is done to correct the faulty 1999 Constitution, there are dangers ahead.

If one should look at it from the First Republic, one can say there was proper representation because the Constitution that we operated was largely negotiated and issues contained in the Willinks Commission reports were taken into consideration in running the affairs of the country. But since the advent of Military rule, the country has never been the same because military government introduced unitary system of government and jettisoned true federalism. Since then, the centre is being manipulated by a small group of Fulani oligarchy that controls power at the expense of other ethnic groups that formed the federation. That is the beginning of most of the crises that we are having and the 1999 Constitution that is escalating the crises.

While we are supposed to run a federal structure, the 1999 Constitution on the other hand entrenches unitary system of government and Islamic Constitution instead of promoting secularity of the country. It is most unfortunate that nothing is working in Nigeria. The country is on auto-pilot.

Is that the reason there is a failure of governance in Nigeria?
To a large extent, we have expanse of land in Nigeria that are ungoverned, which is under the control of terrorists and militants and of course, that is responsible for the huge scale theft of oil in the Niger-Delta.

We can claim that we have a government in place but if there is a failure in governance in the sense that government is not able to provide security and services for its nationals, then the truth is that the government is not living up to its responsibilities. Nigeria is becoming a failed state in all ramifications because there is no governance. What kind of state are we projecting where statistics show that 80 per cent of oil we are producing is being stolen; stolen not by small thieves but by agents of government and multinationals.

That is one hand, then go to the North East, how would you say that you have government in place when nationals have to pay tax to terrorists that control parts of the country?
It was even said that in Kaduna State, there are parts of the state where there is no government in place. In other words, the police are not maintaining security and the local and state governments are not collecting taxes from the people; instead, it is the terrorists that are collecting taxes.

Just the other day, Kaduna State Governor, Mallam el-Rufai said he was not sure whether 2023 elections would hold in the state because of insecurity. Of course, we know about the situation where you can’t travel by train, road and even by air. With all that is in place, the North East is not better off and you cannot say that you have government in place in the true sense of it. What we have is a failed state.

How will you assess Bayelsa State government governance in Bayelsa (the major Ijaw heartland), in terms of providing dividends of democracy to the people?
From my own assessment, I don’t think that the government is meeting the yearning and aspirations of the people. The question you may want to ask is, what is the government doing about environmental issues in Bayelsa State? As far as I’m concerned, government is doing little or nothing. Secondly, is how the government is managing the resources of the state. By my assessment, they can do better than what they are doing currently in terms of human capital development, agriculture, education and others.

On the issue of amnesty and the current pipeline surveillance contract award that is causing controversy in the Niger-Delta, the question I would like us to answer is how does this amnesty and contracts fit into the issues of environmental remediation and compensation for the oil producing communities, as well as development of the oil producing communities?

The issue of amnesty and awards of pipeline protection surveillance contract are just focused on how the Federal Government would continue to make profits out of oil how they would continue to exploit the oil without taking into consideration the lives and communities where this oil is realised.

For instance, Ogoni land is an integral part of the Niger-Delta that has been devastated by oil pollution. They have not been able to do something tangible in that area. The whole of the Niger-Delta is wasting away.

The Federal Government is completely irresponsible; the state government is equally irresponsible and community leaders are also not protecting interests of their people. They are all more interested in how they can get the revenue out of the oil. That is the disaster that we face in the Niger-Delta.