The 2015 general election have come and gone but its distasteful accompaniments have left scores of unanswerable questions in the minds of citizens across Akwa Ibom state: ‘was that election or war…’? One of such citizens who witnessed what transpired in the state is COMRADE IME SILAS. In this media chat with Newsmen in the state, the Activist spoke on issues pertaining to the just concluded elections such as before, during and after the elections as well as alleged electoral malpractices as captured by Jerry Francis. Excerpts:
Let’s start by congratulating you. The candidate you spoke glowingly about, encouraging Nigerians to support, I mean Gen. Muhammadu Buhari has been declared winner of the March 28 Presidential election. What do you think is the significance of his victory?
Firstly, let me say that I don’t think you need to congratulate me. Rather, we should all congratulate ourselves, I mean all Nigerians. We should also congratulate the Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.) on this historic and significant victory. Let me also state here that my support for Gen. Buhari was not borne out of any selfish gain nor pursuit but a fall out of a personal conviction that he is the right man for the job. By his victory, I and other Nigerians who believed so deeply in his aspiration have been vindicated. Secondly, talking about the significance of Buhari’s victory, I would say there is indeed a plethora of significance of the victory. First, a message has been sent to Nigerians that certainly, an incumbent can be removed in an election. In my little capacity as a researcher, I have never seen a country that lacks belief in the possibility of change in leadership through a democratic process like Nigeria. Especially in Akwa Ibom State where I come from, some people have been so myopic in thinking regarding elections that they have formulated a senseless adage in vernacular that “anditie ke ifim ukara akama ito afit. Owo mfen ikemeke adibo anye” (meaning:” an incumbent holds the handle of a machete. No one can wrench it from him). Today, the senselessness in that adage has been proven through the collective resoluteness of Nigerians. Another great significance is that the incoming government would sit up and serve the interest of the Nigerian people, knowing full well that if they fail, the same Nigerians who voted them in can vote them out. Prior to March 28, 2015, we used to see the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) going to meet the rural people with rice, wrapper, salt and some peanut cash only in every four years. That is to say, after the election, you won’t see them again until the next elections in four years time. But watch out, the situation would change because they have seen that the masses can revolt. Before now also, the PDP politicians used to feed on the inordinate syndrome of immediate gratification of some majority of the electorate. But I can assure you that there is going to be a paradigmatic shift in the status quo. The list of the significance of Buhari’s victory is endless but in a nut shell, there is an abundance of assurances that the nation is in for an era of a tangible positive change.
The “change” in APC slogan suggests that they were mainly interested in change of leadership in the country as alleged in some quarters… (cuts in)
I disagree in totality. You see my sister, elections are over. We should put aside all acrimonious comments and salute first the resoluteness of the President elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.), for his tenacity and for having the conviction that he has something to offer to Nigerians. Let us also thank Nigerians for believing in Gen. Buhari, an action which has brought about the new leaf in political dynamics of Nigeria. The All Progressives Congress (APC) has been very consistent in its quest to govern Nigeria. And of course you know they have undergone series of metamorphoses and conglomerations. In the process, I believe they must have understudy the politics and problems of Nigeria and finally, they came up with a very enticing and people-oriented manifesto which was easily bought by Nigerians. So such a party cannot be said to be mainly interested in change of leadership alone. Mind you, the man they had as their Presidential candidate is the main reason for the party’s victory. Nigerians have come to know Gen. Buhari as an incorruptible leader. Take it or leave it. And at a time when the main problem of Nigeria was corruption; where the incumbent had been accused of condoning corruption, then, there appeared a question of who to choose between “corruptible” and “incorruptible” and Nigerians went for the incorruptible. Therefore such a selfless leader who has achieved a change in leadership through a democratic process would always facilitate a change in governmental policies that will benefit the people of Nigeria.
But Gen. Buhari is just an individual in an APC of many other politicians. How are you sure that he and his party will deliver to Nigerians the country of our dreams?
Fine, just like the human body: when there is a serious problem within the brain cells of an individual, the tendency is that such an individual may develop a brain disease. That brain disease may lead to a mental problem which may result in madness! And now, looking at this analysis, the entire problem which led to madness started in the ‘head’. The head regulates, and in most cases determines the well-being of the entire body. Having said that, let me now tell you that where ever a government fails, such a failure could be traced to the “Head” of that government which in the case of Nigeria, the President and Commander-In-Chief. Gen. Buhari, come May 29, 2015 will be sworn-in as the President and Head of State of Nigeria. As the Head, he will bring his incorruptibility to bear. This is a man, as I said in my last interview which I believe some of you were here, that is contented. A man, whose wife is, for all intents and purposes, also contented and humble. The children too are disciplined. This is a man you cannot bribe. So how are you going to lure him into accepting what is not right for the country? We have seen in the past leaderships of Nigeria, cases where a corrupt politician could not access the President, he will use the wife, all in a bid to perpetrate illegality and corruption. But in Buhari, we can predict the outcome. So, Gen. Buhari as the head of the incoming government would cause a positive turn around in the leadership of the Nigeria. All he needs is the support of all Nigerians to enable him effect the much anticipated change.
Sir, I believe that the mere fact that President Goodluck Jonathan lost the election does not mean that he is guilty of all the corruption allegations against him. Again, what significant area do you think Buhari will effect change, different from what we had in the outgoing administration?
Well, I may not know how well versed you are on the economic, political and security situations in the country. But be that as it may, I want to inform you that Nigeria today is a clear opposite of what she supposed to be, given the available resources. Although I am not Gen. Buhari nor his spokesman, but one thing I sure do know is that the era of impunity is over. An era where some people would be assassinated because they speak the truth or belong to an opposition party is over. From May 29, 2015, every politically motivated assassination would be investigated to a logical conclusion. Even the ones that were swept under the carpets would be exhumed. Like in Akwa Ibom State were some people had left for asylum elsewhere, they will all return because an era when an assassin would be released on “orders from above” is over. I am particularly happy that the President- elect, Gen. Buhari has promised that even those who perpetrated election violence would be punished. That promise has sent a message to the family of a Young man in Ibesikpo Asutan L.G.A, Akwa Ibom State who was allegedly shot dead on election day by a serving Commissioner that justice would not only be done, but would be served. An era where some serving Governors will be richer than the states they govern is over. From May 29, 2015, the economic, political and security situation in the country will begin to witness a new leaf because the man, whose emergence at the polls sent shivers down the spines of corrupt Nigerians, would be sworn-in as President.
Are you suggesting that justice was never done to citizens in the outgoing era of Goodluck Jonathan?
I am not going to give you a yes or no answer. I would only suggest that most of you who have practiced as Journalists here in Akwa Ibom State for the last eight years should ask yourselves this question: have those whose family members were killed or kidnapped seen justice? How many people have been judiciously prosecuted, convicted or sentenced in relation to these crimes? Whatever answer you will have will be an answer to the question you asked me.
So many people have called for the cancellation of both the March 28 and April 11 elections in Akwa Ibom State. What is your take on that?
My take? Ehm… Well, I would rather say that anyone who has enough evidence to warrant such cancellation should collate same and approach the Elections Petitions Tribunal which would soon take off in the state. You see, there is one thing a lot of people don’t know in this issue of cancellation of result. The law says that once an election result has been announced by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), such result cannot be cancelled except by a tribunal or a court of competent jurisdiction. Even though this law seems to provide avenue for an electoral umpire to abet electoral malpractices, we have to accept it as a bitter pill until it is expunged. Having said that, let me also say that even the election riggers themselves know that elections did not hold in most parts of Akwa Ibom State. There is no doubt about that. But, for the purpose of this interview, I will call on those who have been rigged out in the elections to put their evidence together and approach the tribunal in which lies the power to cancel the result of an election.
But why is it that President Goodluck Jonathan and some PDP Governorship Candidates who lost the elections conceded defeat and congratulated the winners while the APC counterparts are calling for cancellation. Is that not… (cuts in)
You see, let me tell you, illegality can only persist where it goes unchallenged. Again, anything built on illegitimacy will always, to the extent of its illegitimacy, remain illegitimate. The Presidential election victory was very clear and obvious. Certain indications pointedly show who the winner would be. The fact that Mr. President saw defeat even before election result was announced, and called to congratulate the winner, Gen. Buhari, does not mean that anyone who sees that his election was out rightly rigged should not challenge it. Accepting an illegally produced result cannot legalize it. When a sitting Governor or his party who controls every apparatus, like in the cases of Kaduna, Benue, Plateau states, etc., in the just-concluded elections, see convincingly that the people he governs no longer needs him or his party, and have determined to pronounce it through the ballot, then it is only a fool that will do the otherwise of quitting or as in this case, accepting defeat. I have been saying this and I will say it here again that until election riggers are severely punished, this country will know no peace. Election rigging is worst than Boko haram or armed robbery. If you can carry gun to rob a person of his belonging, you have succeeded in robbing an individual. But where you rig elections, you are stealing the people’s mandate. You are robbing the entire human race. In fact you are promoting criminality in the society because you did not rig the election alone. You used the youths as thugs and sometimes, as it has been reported, the armed forces, the police, some of whom were fake. When you rig and impose a certain fellow on the people, you are taking away from them the powers to elect their leader; the power of which was given to them by the Supreme law of the land –the Constitution. The masses should be allowed to be part of the electoral processes that produced their leader. It is not only an affront on the people but also a slap on them that anyone can be brought from anywhere to govern them. A popular candidate needs no rigging to win. A candidate who feels he is popular and can win elections should tell his promoters not to rig for him. For now everybody, even the PDP knows that Buhari of the APC was the most popular Presidential candidate. So he deserved the victory. But that cannot be said of some other governorship candidates like in Akwa Ibom State who rigged to win. We all witnessed what transpired during the governorship primaries of the PDP. A candidate produced by that kind of exercise cannot be said to be representing the wishes of his party. Now, if a greater percentage of his party could not support him because of the circumstances of his emergence, how can you expect such a governorship candidate to win? What about Rivers state and so on? Certain indices, such as the circumstances of emergence of a candidate may rid him of popularity vis-à-vis, ability to win. Therefore where circumstances place him on the side of unpopularity, such a candidate should not resort to rigging. Therefore not only should rigged elections be cancelled by appropriate quarters, the perpetrators of the rigging should be severely punished so as to serve as deterrent to others. A leader must be seen to have emerged through the popular wishes of the people. That way, he owes the people an unreserved accountability and commitment to the delivery of campaign promises. But where his emergence was through rigging or any other malpractices, his allegiance would be to a few cabal, who perpetrated the electoral fraud that produced him.
Sir, are you saying that Boko Haram is better compared to election rigging?
Please, don’t misquote me. I was only giving an illustration. But even at that, let me also tell you that election rigging is done through the use of arms and ammunition. Now, the question: is where do the riggers get the guns used in the rigging? Are the thugs used in the rigging disposed of the arms? Since the question is no, what is the fate of arms afterwards… The list of questions is endless. So anybody involved in rigging should be jailed. Apart from that, what about accountability? The person who becomes governor through the instrumentality of rigging, as I said earlier, would always be loyal and accountable to the rigging system that brought him into power. That is why from May 29, 2015, the nation would witness accountability in governance because the Elected President knows he was elected by the people. And of course in a lighter note, the slogan of the PDP: “Power to the People” to me is a mockery because their accession in most cases cannot be said to be the product of the people. It is only when a leader is elected by the people that such a government can be said to be devoid of rigging.
What could be your advice to the incoming administration of Gen. Buhari?…( cuts in)
But I am not a Presidential Adviser… (general laughter) well, ehm. Let me rather call it my moral contribution. General Buhari must be wary of sycophants. Sycophancy, to me, kills the real essence of democracy. When a government resorts to savoring the undeserved praises of some ‘hallelujah boys’, it derails from focus on effective delivery of democratic dividends. A government is elected for a purpose and its scorecard can only be evaluated at the end of its tenure. But where a government spends much money on ‘PR’ rather than meeting the yearnings of the people, the result is always a failure and the consequence of such failure is what befell the outgoing President Jonathan and his party. But I am confident that the President-elect is a disciplined and focused leader who cares a lot about the welfare and wellbeing of Nigerians and Nigeria.
Let me also say here that Nigerians are very nice people to govern, earnestly. What the citizens want is the basic infrastructure. You will agree with me that the resources are abundantly available. All the government needs to do is create the enabling environment, put the right people, make the right policies and so on, and you see the system working perfectly for the benefit of the people.
I don’t need to harp on corruption because I know already that the President-elect is an epitome of integrity and incorruptibility. But what I know that Nigerians expect to see is a situation where some governors and other politicians who terrorize them in the course of governance are made to face the full weight of the law. Those who enriched themselves inordinately by the commonwealth of the people should be made to squirm in the docks, after which they are stripped of the ill-gotten wealth. Nigeria must be admitted into the comity of states across the globe where leaders serve the interest of the governed. And I know that the right time is now!
What is your comment on the wind of defections to the victorious All Progressives Congress?
To me, it is not good for our democracy. A democratic government thrives where there is a formidable opposition. I would want to see the PDP going back to the drawing boards. They should put their house in good shape. Learn from their mistakes. Although it might not also be entirely healthy to begin now to think about the 2019 elections as this might not augur well for the job of nation building, but they should brace up for the task of an opposition party. I know that an average politician thinks of the next election but I think Nigerians should be more interested in nation building. We must accept the stark reality that all is not well for the country so that together we can build a virile nation of our collective dreams.
You speak like a Politician. Are you nurturing any political ambition?
Well, although there is this popular adage that every human being is a political animal, I may not really or openly, subscribe to the nomenclature “Politician”. But I think I am a Social crusader or an Activist, if you like. But talking about ambition, well, that will be decided by my people in the nearest possible future.
It has been a pleasure talking with you sir.
Thanks very much for your time and the opportunity you have accorded me. I am abundantly grateful.