‘BIVAS technology is vaccine to vote rigging’
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, lauds the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the successful conduct of the governorship election in Anambra State last Saturday. He also sheds light on why APC performed poorly at the election, urging the leaders to respect Article 20 of the APC constitution, which frowns on the imposition of candidates.
How would you rate the conduct of the Anambra State governorship election last Saturday with respect to the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies?
My submission is that the Bi-modal Voters Accreditation System (BIVAS) and the earlier smart card readers are vaccines against vote-rigging. Methinks that in no distance future, our electoral system will be one of the most credible, free and fair. Naturally, the credit goes to INEC. Yes, there were hitches as is always the case in the early usage of any type of technology. Accordingly, I give INEC a pass mark for reinforcing the faith of our people in democracy.
There is no doubt that the card reader and its brother, the BIVAS, will be our saviour. The flip-flop witnessed in Anambra will be our best teacher in future elections.
Why are you so confident that the smart card reader and BIVAS will reinforce the faith of Nigerians in democracy?
There is my father’s technology story, which reinforced my faith in how technology can change the generational attitude of cynic people like Nigerians. Technology, no doubt, will reinforce the social contract between the elected president, governors, legislators and the electorate. Technology has commenced the transformation of the psyche of politicians to be more loyal to the electorate than godfathers. It is a revolution, for if it is federal might, APC could have won Anambra squarely. This was the folly of those who continue to hope to rig elections at collation centres.
What was your father’s story about technology?
In summary, my father of blessed memory was a bicycle repairer serving the coal industry in Enugu in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. He had a young student friend who often visited his uncle, a coal miner, during holidays. When his uncle goes into the coal site, the young student would spend time with my father, helping him in his workshop. In 1958, he got a scholarship to Imperial College to study mechanical engineering and my dad celebrated him with his tokenism. In a thank you response, he advised my father to go and learn how to repair motor vehicles. My dad was very angry. His anger was based on the fact that there were not up to 10 vehicles in the whole eastern region then. He refused to follow technology and remained on a bicycle. Not quite long, vehicles of all manners started streaming into Nigeria and bicycles were almost phased out. My dad regretted rejecting the advice and told us to always follow new technology. Methinks with tremendous improvement in our electoral process, if we continue to adopt new technologies, it will be the same.
Are there areas you think the INEC and other stakeholders in election management should improve upon going forward?
Definitely! Improvement is required in the early deployment of men and materials. Also, expertise in managing the BIVAS, a vaccine to vote-rigging, especially as we are approaching the next general election, is very important if INEC cannot manage an off-season election seamlessly, where the contestation is only in one state out of 36 and FCT, what will happen in the general election? INEC needs to double up from whom much is given much is expected.
There were expectations that the APC would use the election to make further inroads into the Southeast but it came a distant third in the result. What happened?
In fact, we were excited and optimistic based on many reasons. One, we were second successively in 2013 and 2017 and expected to come first this time. Secondly, we had almost gained buy-in from major stakeholders that going by the zoning of the presidency, it is the turn of Ndigbo or as some prefer, Southeast. That the people of Southeast will embrace APC. I’m expansive in this matter. We drummed it that, to put an end to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and all manner of separatist agitations, the best thing to do is to give APC a sound foothold in our geopolitical zone. Thirdly, we have good infrastructure narrative than the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the geopolitical zone. PDP promised Second Niger Bridge for 16 years to no avail but President Muhammadu Buhari came and awarded the N200 billion contract for the bridge, lifting the first bag of cement, first iron rod and first shovel of gravel. Ditto the Enugu-Onitsha Road, Enugu-Port Harcourt Road reconstruction.
Going by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing report, there are 35,000 kilometres of federal roads, out of which over 13,000 kilometres are under construction and some have been completed by the Buhari’s administration from 2015 to date. This record is unprecedented.
So what went wrong? Why did your party lose?
Mpu! Don’t forget that mpu as an Igbo word was adopted by English, as a living language, into impunity, same meaning. I’m not saying that Senator Andy Uba was not qualified to run, far from it. But the process, the primary election that produced him was very untidy. That’s what one highlighted above.
The poor outing of your candidate appears to suggest that the people of the Southeast detest the APC?
Capital no! We were taught in political science class that when a political party has a low approval rating, the best solution is to go for the most popular candidate to square up, especially when everyone knows that in terms of infrastructure APC is head and shoulders above PDP. On the issue of marginalisation, the best solution is for an Igbo to preside over Nigeria for the first time. As I said earlier, there are several advantages going for Nigeria president of Igbo extraction.
There have been scathing comments concerning the figures the APC candidate garnered during the primary election that produced him when compared to the votes he got at the main election. Are you of the opinion that the result of the election validates the position of those who claim that no such election was held?
The truth of the matter as highlighted above is that none of us is happy to comment on what transpired. One is not even happy discussing the election as it reminds one of those utopian stories we were told when we were young.
Many political observers saw what played out in Anambra as a power game between the founding members of the party in the Southeast and defectors from other parties. The existence of a rift was very obvious as the party neither had a mega campaign flag-off and closure nor the presence of key stalwarts as it canvassed for votes across the state. With the outcome of the election, don’t you think the Southeast APC has laid the foundation for a permanent dichotomy between the old guard and new members?
Yes and no. It is not in the sense that some migrants from PDP did not view APC as a rehabilitation centre, while others view our platform as a rehabilitation centre. Those who view APC as a rehabilitation centre are the ones with who we are at loggerheads because they are food-is-ready politicians. We have many of them in Enugu State APC. They entered with nobody, no contribution of any sort but confusion and factionalism. They claim that they are ex-this, ex-that, but have no electoral value.
Regrettably, some of our leaders outside our zone rate them very high without due diligence. And when you point out their political value hollowness, they will counter and admonish you to embrace your brother. I don’t blame them for they forget the republican nature of our people.
You are one of those that supported the extension of the tenure of the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of your party. With what played out in Anambra and the crisis ravaging many state chapters of the party following the conduct of congresses, would you still say he has managed the party well?
It won’t be fair to give a failure mark to the CECPC led by Buni, for we cannot easily forget the reconciliation, registration and revalidation they handled seamlessly. And nobody can say that the ward, local government and state congresses failed nationwide. It succeeded more in the North and failed mostly in southern states where the people are more republican, like in the Southeast. For this reason, the blame is not widespread; it can only be traced to a few members of the CECPC in the South who failed to diligently consult as envisaged by Article 20 of the APC’s Constitution. The party’s constitution, in Article 20, clearly warns us that imposition breeds discontent and crisis.
Can you expatiate on Article 20?
When one, with nostalgia, remembers the efforts of Aremu Segun Osoba and Co in the constitution sub-committee of the APC’s merger committee at Chief Tom Ikimi’s Maitama house, one weeps.
Once, I confronted Osoba that one thought it was better for him to join us in the manifesto sub-committee as a media guru. He said I should go and read Article 20, that that’s why he chose the constitution committee. The Article 20 reads: “All party posts prescribed or implied by this constitution shall be filled by democratically conducted elections at a respective national convention or congress subject, where possible, to consensus. Where a candidate has emerged by consensus for an elective position, a vote of “yes” or “no” by ballot or voice shall be called to ensure that it was not an imposition which could breed discontent and crisis.”
The outcome of breaching this all-important article is our loss. I weep that what Chief Osoba and Co ingrained in black and white in our great party as a norm, we deliberately breach at each turn. And it has continued to haunt us since 2013, especially in the 2019 general election.
Imposition-impunity was why we lost uncountable legislative seats and gubernatorial elections. And we could have lost the presidential election but for President Buhari’s 12 million vote-bank. We lost states like Bauchi, Zamfara, Sokoto but Mr. President got majority votes.
Do you think that the way the APC is structured its leadership can stop what you call imposition-impunity?
Yes. Imposition cannot continue because APC is a comeback party. We learn from our mistakes, introspect and change our approach. As a matter of fact, we have to restore the faith of the foundation, legacy members of our great party. Mr. President, for instance, always remind all of us party leaders of the pledge he made to Nigerians; that he will bequeath a credible, free and fair election legacy. He admonishes some of us quietly against misadventure. If you recall, he was kind of reluctant in raising our candidates’ hands. This is not the end of the road, even for Senator Andy Uba; the possibilities are open. Age is on his side and he can spring surprises in the nearest future.
However, let me state clearly that imposition-impunity is not peculiar to APC. In fact, methinks it was PDP that exported it into our great party because the current imposition-impunity menace, especially in the Southeast APC, cannot be divorced from new migrants from PDP, those food-is-ready politicians who regard APC as a rehabilitation centre.
Please check closely and carefully, for modesty will not allow me to mention names. The card reader and its brother, the BIVAS, will be our saviour. Failure will be our best teacher in future primaries and congresses.
There are rumours that the tenure of the caretaker committee might still be further extended. Would you support it if the option is put forward again as the APC gropes for stability?
To be honest, one wouldn’t mind if the tenure is extended to allow for enough time to diligently fix the factions in certain states, especially in the Southeast. There is a faction in Enugu, Abia, Anambra, Imo and Ebonyi states.
A lot of people will not agree with your categorization; they will accuse you of using your home state, Enugu, as a yardstick to paint every state with a faction brush. Were you honest to file Ebonyi in the same faction jacket with Enugu?
Without being immodest, I’m neither an emotional nor sentimental person. All I’m saying is for the collective interest of our great party, Mr. President and our fledgling democracy. I’m not playing to the gallery. Despite the peace of the graveyard in certain states, all is not well. My concern is because of the canopy provided by BIVAS mode of election, which favours the voters. An aggrieved person may keep quiet and pretend, waiting for the voting day to extract his pound of flesh. This is the danger of the almighty BIVAS technology.
Many people believe that the outcome of the election will affect the quest by the Southeast to produce the next president of the country on the platform of the APC as it indicated another total rejection of the party by the people. What is your take?
Yes, but the media seem to be over flogging this issue. Permit me to ask: When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became the first beneficiary of the zoning convention, did he win Abeokuta local council as stipulated by the guidelines then? My canvas is that the zoning convention is as relevant today as it was in 1999. Nigeria is still a fragile state, more or less ethnoreligious divided today than in 1999. I know the sweetness and allure of power. Yet, to avoid Somalia, let’s continue the bonding of our dear nation and do all we can to engender oneness.
Methinks that we should continue the zoning convention. My appeal to our northern brothers is to put Nigeria first, not their self-interest or regional interest. An Igbo may even develop the North and by extension Nigeria better. We must not forget the labour of heroes – Adamu Ciroma, Sola Saraki, Abubakar Rimi, Umaru Shinkafi, Shehu Yar’Adua and others of blessed memory who shelved their personal ambitions for national unity.
But considering the level of insecurity in the country and the dwindling standard of living, do you even think your party stands a chance to win the 2023 election?
Yes, for many reasons. One is the old maxim that politics is a game of numbers and most important victory is premised on performance. On number, APC governs 22 states out of 36. What this means is that in the presidential election, APC will most likely poll the highest votes and make the proverbial and mandatory 2/3 spread.
Methinks that we are even discussing the probability of APC’s victory because of the insecurity and consequent economic downturn. Otherwise, President Muhammadu Buhari’s legacy will be that of Mr. Infrastructure – physical, social and unprecedented agrarian revolution. I sincerely believe that with the entire kinetic and non-kinetic security infrastructure being deployed, insecurity must abate before the 2023 general election. For instance, the construction of ranches will definitely curb farmers/herders clashes.