IDEAS Radio 15 November 2019

Gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa & Kogi States (II)

Rotimi Sankore: And welcome back to the Public Square, 99.3 Nigeria Info with me, Rotimi Sankore.  Aghogho Oboh is still on leave, but he’ll be joining us tomorrow for the special elections coverage.  So welcome, Ayo.

Ayo Obe: Hi.

RS: … to the IDEAS segment, and Seun Akinfolarin of the Civic Media Hub …

Seun Akinfolarin: Thankyou.

AO: Hub or Lab?

SA: Lab.

AO: Lab, yes.

RS: He’s still very much with us.  So, welcome. Hope your journey went smoothly?

AO: Well … parts of it were smooth as they say, and … but people seem to get so bent out of shape when I say that parts of the road are very smooth, and I mentioned that it was so smooth I could pour myself out a cup of coffee from my flask …

RS: Without problems.

AO: And no spills.  

RS: So some part of the road passed the Fashola challenge?

AO: More than passed it.  But parts of it didn’t!  

RS: And the parts that were no good …

AO: … were ‘Shake, Rattle ‘n’ Roll’!  But the point is, that what I don’t understand is why people get so bent out of shape by the fact that some of the news is good, and some of the news is not good.  It’s not … I don’t …

RS: Maybe it’s because where the roads are bad, they are very bad?

AO: No, the point is that in some places it’s bad, and in some places it’s very bad.  In some places it’s good, and in some places, oh boy, it’s very good. But what I experienced on my way coming back was that when we hit Berger and we ran into the mother and father of all hold ups and that’s why instead of being here at four o’clock, I’m so sorry, is I’m here at five o’clock. 

But I do hope that we’ll be able to start the discussion on the IDEAS segment and to welcome listeners to Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability as they reflect in the elections that we are about to witness in Bayelsa State and Kogi State.  I have to say Rotimi, that the news does not resonate with those particular virtues, particularly Integrity and Ethics. I mean … 

RS: Let’s go to Bayelsa first.

AO: Ok.  Well, Bayelsa is … I think Bayelsa is a little bit … there are two parts to it.  We’d already been discussing the fact that there are so many … there are so many security agencies deployed in the state, and, you see there’s a point at which it becomes counter-productive, because as I said, if the intelligence agencies and the security agencies had done their job and were working in harmony, then there  shouldn’t be a need for such overwhelming security presence, unless the purpose of the security presence is something else, which is to say; either to intimidate voters, or it could equally be, to again pass a message to those who might want to use violence in the elections, that we’re on ground to stop it. But I do think that … and it could be … that could happen from either side, or from any of the sides considering how many candidates there are in the election.

But there’s also that issue of – I mean apart from the security aspect – there’s the litigation conundrum, which looks to be a rerun of the situation that was seen in  Zamfara State in the national elections. And the question is whether that situation, as it … the way it resolved itself in Zamfara State, is also going to be how it’s resolved in Bayelsa State.

RS: And that similarity is because … it seems …

AO: The courts have intervened.

RS: Yes, yes.  But more importantly it seems like the court rulings, both the one suspending … removing the APC candidate from the ballot, and then the Appeal Court stay saying he should remain on the ballot, either way, both came too late, and INEC just said that they would remain on the ballot, but the votes would be null.

AO: No, INEC did not say that the votes would be null.  What happened was that at the last minute, an order was secured suspending or removing the APC candidate.  Now INEC said that that had come too late.  Meanwhile, that order was appealed against, and an order for stay was sought.  And the Court of Appeal quite sensibly said (because it’s the obvious thing to do) said that: “We’re not going to postpone the election.  What we do is that we suspend the impact of this ruling that the APC candidate is not qualified to be on the ballot paper, and we allow the election to go ahead with him on it.”   Which is what INEC had already said that they had no option but to do in any event, and if …

RS: Yes, but what INEC is then saying …

AO:  if … there’s an “if” there …

RS: Ok, now you’re coming to it.

AO: You cannot say … INEC did not say that the votes would be null.  INEC said that the person would remain on the ballot paper, and that if the litigation confirms the candidate’s disqualification, then any votes cast for a disqualified candidate will be of no effect, will be null and void.  So that’s why I say that it’s similar to the situation that we saw in Zamfara State, where the vote went ahead with the candidate on the ballot box, and if they … and in fact in Zamfara State, the APC candidate got the most votes, but because the courts eventually upheld the disqualification on the basis of lack of proper primary election: because of that, those votes were cancelled.

RS: Does it create a dilemma if the disqualified candidate gets the higher votes?

AO: Well it didn’t create a dilemma in Zamfara State.  In fact in Zamfara State the disqualified candidate could have shared his votes with another candidate and comfortably, and still … that person would still have won. Now in Bayelsa it may become a moot point, because Bayelsa is a state where so far the PDP has had a majority and it has a majority in the House of Assembly, and it’s the incumbent party.  Now, we discussed Bayelsa quite extensively last week, but the point when we talk about the Integrity of the election, is that the obvious thing to do, which as I say, is what the Court of Appeal did, and INEC did, was to say: Rather than cancel an election or remove somebody from the ballot, then we should allow them to remain on the ballot. There’s a political dimension to that  kind of decision, because it may be that some people hear: Oh, your candidate has been disqualified, and they will decide not to go out and vote. And when something like that happens, if turns out that the candidate was not disqualified, then that candidate, may … if they don’t win the plurality of the votes, may say: Well, I was un … it was an unfair election which lacks integrity because my supporters were falsely discouraged by the attempts to disqualify me, so it does have an impact on the …

RS: And the 24 hour turnaround … between the High Court and the Court of Appeal?

AO: Well, when there’s an urgency, there’s urgency!  It’s just that we’ve now become used to somebody labelling something an urgent matter and the court saying: Enh, we’ll hear it next week.  But in my youth, we used to say something was urgent and the court would hear it. And of course we have the example of courts in other parts of the world, you don’t even have to appear in court, the judges will give an order over the telephone where there’s an urgent situation.  So I think rather than raising our eyebrows, we say: No, I don’t raise my eyebrows at the 24 hour turnaround, as long as you get your appeal ready in time, you get your appeal ready. What I raise my eyes at is that when there are other similarly urgent situations, for example, those that involve the liberty of the person, the courts say: Enh, we’re coming, no need to hurry.  And so I think that we would like to see this kind of attention to urgent matters, but we think that rather than criticising it, we want to see it extended so that we can all feel that we have access to the temple of justice, not just those who are politically connected or important etc.

RS: And quickly to Kogi, where the problem as it is, seems to be different.

AO: Well, again, it raises questions, not from the point of view of the Independent National Electoral Commission, but in the context of whether the security agencies can be said to be behaving with Integrity, or in an Ethical manner in the preservation or nurturing of Nigerian Democracy.  Because I mean, we’ve all seen these situations where the parties are encouraged to come and sign declarations that they will peacefully conduct the election, that they will abide by the result of the election, and so on. And then you find a situation where a candidate for one of the parties, that is Natasha Akpoti of the Social Democratic Party, was on her way to sign the document that signified that she too was ready to abide by the … to conduct the election in a peaceful manner, and she was attacked at the very entrance where the security agencies were.  Her secretariat had already been attacked and the finger clearly pointed at the incumbent because the pictures of the APC candidate were pasted all over her own SDP secretariat. So it’s not just not a good look for the APC, which is signing a peace treaty or document that we intend to conduct things peacefully, it’s … it not only doesn’t look good for them, but it looks even worse for the security agencies which are supposed to provide security.

RS: They couldn’t protect her, and they couldn’t apprehend the people.

AO: Yes, and I think that when we use terms like “couldn’t” you know, one begins to be a little bit … because anywhere where the Inspector General of Police goes, he doesn’t just stroll in like you or I.  He goes with what we call ‘entourage’, and his own entourage is not just Tom, Dick or Harry his entourage is well armed, alert, elite police officers. So if the IG is somewhere and this is happening outside, then it raises very very serious questions about the commitment of the security agencies.  I mean, it’s one thing to say that: I’m only here to protect Mr. X, and therefore when I see Mrs. Y being murdered in the street well, I’m sorry, I’m only here … I mean, would that anybody accept that as an excuse? If it was a member of the public who said: I only came here to face Direction 1, and I refuse to look in Direction 2.  It wouldn’t be accepted. And it’s certainly not acceptable from the security agencies. So I think that there are some things that are a little bit too much ‘in-your-face’. You know – I’ve said before that I’m a little bit of a believer in a bit of hypocrisy in public life, and when you do things that are so brazen … you see, so brazen and blatant.  You see … I don’t know if … you may be young, you may not remember just a mere a six or seven years ago, when elections were to be held in Ekiti State … and the … you’re looking puzzled … memories are short in Nigeria! The elections were to be held in Ekiti State, and the incumbent governor was Ayodele Fayose and the main challenger was Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress.  He had been out of office and he was now trying to come back, and the way that the police infiltrated … sorry, he was the incumbent and he was facing re … he was trying to be re-elected, but the way that the police invaded … the security agencies invaded the state, and they were openly going around, they were wearing balaclavas so that you couldn’t identify them, and toting … fearsome weaponry (as far as I’m concerned anyway), I mean, it may have been ordinary AK47s to some people, but to me it was fearsome weaponry.  And so the point is, that that was done, and it was roundly condemned and criticised by everybody except the incumbent PDP. And now, we see that, instead of saying: We are going to not behave in that fashion. We are seeing … I mean, we may not see money changing hands in the way that we saw … 

RS: this Ten billion Naira

AO: No, no, that’s a separate matter with due respect.  Ten billion … the money … I will l come to it. But the point is that we … in terms of the security, now we are seeing that the thing that was condemnable when it was done by Mr. Party A is now “Well, it’s a different Matter!” when it comes to Party B.  I mean, Nigerians are a little bit more sophisticated like that.  I’m aware that the partisans on each side will seek to justify whatever is being done by their own favoured party, but really, I think that the security agencies ought not to be falling into that trap.

RS: We only have a minute or two to go, but …

AO: You were going to talk about the …

RS: Yes, the N10 billion

AO: Yes, the fact is that States are entitled to get their money.  The problem is, as it is always, why is the money being released on the eve of elections?  Is it to persuade the people … I mean on the one hand, if it was really felt that by … that yes, the government of the party that we want you to vote for is the same government in power at the centre that is releasing this money … that would be … it would be a bit borderline, but it would be within acceptable, because the money is owed.  But the fear is that this money that is being released is not being released because Kogi State needs it for the benefit of its citizens, but that the people in power in Kogi State need it for the purposes of elections, and that’s where it becomes … we move from the grey area to the deepest hues of black.

RS: Ok, alright.  Seun, would you want to weigh in on …

SA: I think that it’s … it’s also very worrisome.  That the government themselves should be sensitive to such an issue.  If you release the money on the eve of the election, even a child would connect the dots, right?  And it doesn’t tell well for the image of the government at the centre, because whether we like it or not, the perception now is that the money is for elections.  You and I can talk about the technicality, people feel that money has come: like that the ‘Kogi bullion van’ has arrived. Selah.

RS: That’s a massive alert to get two days to the election.  Ten billion alert! Your smartphone may even collapse under the weight of the …

AO: I’m not sure that it has capacity for … Ten billion is Ten Thousand Million naira.  It’s not a small amount, it’s not a small amount. But I want to thank you both, Seun and Rotimi …

RS: Somebody made a joke that if it mistakenly transferred to another person’s account

AO: That would not be a joke!  But I want to close the IDEAS segment by thanking Seun and Rotimi for joining me to again look at some of the issues that border on Integrity, on Ethics.  We talked about Accountability last week, but now we’re really in the heat of the Integrity and Ethics matters. And from the perspective of Democracy I’m afraid that things are not looking quite so healthy from an IDEAS point of view.

RS: Thank you so much.

SA: I agree.