Kpagih: Violence is major threat to 2019 poll
A former Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and Co-founder, Initiative for Credible Election (ICE), Mr. Baritor Kpagih, in this interview with KELVIN EBIRI, said that violence may threaten the 2019 general election if the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is not assented to.
Barely five months to the 2019 general elections, are you concerned that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill has not been signed into law?
Some of us would wish that the issue of the Electoral Act is dealt with early enough. In 2015, when the card reader was introduced, everybody, particularly those who believe in democracy were excited about it, and I have also heard that President Muhammadu Buhari said that without the card reader he would have been rigged out. I also know that the Supreme Court in the course of its judgment said card reader was a wonderful innovation, though not backed by law. We thought that the amendment of the Act was aimed at giving a legal backing to the use of card reader so that the gap that was created by the position of the Supreme Court would be covered. I read that the National Assembly took care of those observations raised by Mr. President. That may have delayed assent to that bill. We hope that with what they have done, the bill will be attended to very quickly.
The truth is, if it becomes the position, that use of the smart card readers will be the basis for the declaration of results, and even for the courts to recognise the outcome as the basis for judicial decision, then, the very thing we are talking about, that is, people using all means to grab result sheets and write results to say they have won can be dealt with technically.
What that means is that if people don’t get accredited with the use of card reader and they just produce results, such results could be invalidated. So, we are looking forward to the signing of the bill because it will make the job easier for INEC, and also give credibility to election results.
Will delay in releasing funds threaten the conduct of elections?
In one’s private life if you have activities to carry out and you don’t have funds, you don’t need any economists to tell you that it is going to impact negatively on what you are planning to do. But we hope that will be dealt with soon.
As an election expert, do you have any particular concern about the forthcoming election?
I am particularly concerned about election in Rivers State. I was opportune to serve in Edo, I also served in Bayelsa and Delta states in course of my work with INEC, and I noticed that throughout my work in Edo, I did not for one day hear the sound of gunshot because people were engaged in political activities. Even in Delta State (though, I didn’t carry out any major activity there), but I did election in Warri South and when we were going there the atmosphere was tensed. That, however, turned out to be the best election that I ever conducted. The result came out and at the end of the day, 13 political parties that participated in that election jointly came to say, ‘thank you.’
On August 18, 2018 during the Port Harcourt Constituency Three By-election, you all saw what happened. If you were following elections in Rivers State in 2015, there was no seat that was contested at the polls that was not contested at the tribunals. Not one. As a result, all those who are in position today, whether executive or legislature, got their seats through court judgments. Some seats even had more than two reruns before it was finally settled. Also look at what happened in August over just a state constituency election, does it not call for concern? So, it is clear from the level of violence recorded in the August 18 by-election that we are not out of the woods. The question now is, if this can happen at that level, what is likely to happen at the stage of governorship election? These are the concerns.
Will the prevailing intra-party squabbles across the country not impact on the 2019 polls?
Definitely. It will have adverse impact on the election because in every election some crises from party primaries normally get into the election proper. From experience, they carry the fight from their internal party dispute into the main election. Some can even go to the extent of getting people who will disrupt an election. We just pray that that does not happen in a major election in 2019. In most cases, when INEC conducts an election, you will see politicians shouting at the top of their voices that INEC has conducted an inconclusive election. Why did it become so difficult for a party to take a position on what it has to do as a party concerning its primary election?
So, what is the responsibility of leadership if it can’t hold on to a position. If this was coming from INEC you will hear condemnation all over the country by these same people. The fact that people cannot disagree to agree even within a party tells you the leadership we have in this country today.
Do you worry that the defection of former governors of Akwa-Ibom and Delta States from PDP to APC could threaten the poll in those states?
If they are true leaders, who are they going to lead if the people are destroyed in pursuit of their struggle for leadership? When you hear the kind of statements that some of them make, it is like they don’t even care about what happens. I think as leaders, the burden should be on them to ensure that peace and security are present in the environment, where they are aspiring to lead the people, but it appears that is not important to them hence their desire to win at all cost in an ordinary election.
Are there perceptible threats to the 2019 polls that might warrant postponement?
I read the INEC chairman the other day making a statement on need for security. The law permits INEC if in course of an election the security situation does not allow for free and fair election to stop such election. We did it in Bayelsa State, but we are not praying for a repetition. That is why we are appealing to our brothers. If the basis for election is to access power and that power is meant for developing the people, you don’t need to kill the people before you get power. I was looking at the report of the National Bureau of Statistics, do you know that Rivers State is not number one in terms of crime in this country? Lagos State is number one, but everywhere in this country today, Rivers State is made to look like we are number one because of the perception surrounding and coming from the activities of our elections. So, we are begging and appealing to our brothers to understand that credible election is useful for socio-economic development. Because of what happened in August, I have met a few people who said they would not be here during election in 2019. They are moving.
How do we avert perceived threats to credible elections in the South South?
From what I am seeing, I am not sure there will be any change in pattern unless this Electoral Act is assented to and people understand that it is only what comes out of the smart card readers that would be the basis for declaring results of election. I conducted the governorship election in Bayelsa State and I know what violence is. That was an election in which anti-aircraft bomb was deployed.
I have monitored elections, and the last election I conducted was a senatorial election in Osun State. I didn’t hear the sound of gunshots, but people voted and protected their votes without guns. I don’t know how that can be possible here in the South South. Right now, one of the parties in Rivers State has two offices along Aba Road in Port Harcourt. When are they going to sort out themselves and reconcile before the primaries so that some of the issues that led to their separation would not be hanging even up to the election proper?
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