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‘Jega won’t know when election would be rigged’

Holding elections is one thing. Then, for the election to be free, fair and credible is another thing. Nigerians are clamouring for the elections to…

Holding elections is one thing. Then, for the election to be free, fair and credible is another thing. Nigerians are clamouring for the elections to be free, fair and credible. But organizing free and fair elections goes beyond one stakeholder. All stakeholders including the party, politicians, the electorate as well as the civil societies must be involved. The INEC is just one of the stakeholders involved in elections. With all the visible hiccups, I am afraid whether the Commission can organize free, fair and acceptable elections in 2011.

As we have been saying, the problem in INEC is not  who heads the commission. On the day of election, you have 774 electoral officers across the local government aress; you have 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners in all the states and the FCT. Again, most of these RECs are appointees of their state governors. Now, on the day of election, Professor Attahiru Jega will only visit one polling station either in Lagos, Abuja or somewhere and we are talking about 350, 000 polling stations across the country.

 Therefore whatever the EO says on the day of election is final. Jega cannot do anything about it, so I think people must separate the INEC chairman from the problem we are facing in conducting free and fair elections. Having said that, the voters’ registration they want to embark upon is belated. If we follow the new electoral law, by August 16, INEC is supposed to display that voters’ register. So time is not there. What can we do with this huddle? How can we remove all the dubious names that INEC officials put there in the first place? And if you read the interview of Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River State, which is belated because for me he is now supposed to be in jail, you will see that he opened up on how they rigged election without the involvement of INEC chairman, the REC or police. If you look at that story critically, nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is that Iwu has gone and Jega has come. I know INEC like the palm of my hand. Those who rigged elections in INEC are still there. Jega is a friend. Let him know that those people who rig elections are still there in INEC. I will not mention names.

You will be doing well to Nigerians by giving their names…

No. We will point them out one day.

Some people are suggesting that in view of the problems at hand, and the fact that we want to conduct credible elections, the handing over date should be shifted to October 1, 2011 so that INEC will have enough time to have it right. Where do you place this suggestion?

We have to be careful because if you shift the handing over for a day, many things can crop up, and before you know, it would be shifted for another year, or even ten years. But if the will is there and there is sincerity, why not? The fact is that even if you do fresh registration 100 times under Jega, it does not mean there won’t be challenges in the election. Every nation has its own challenges. I was in Ghana during their last elections and people were killed; the two candidates accused each other of rigging. Former Predident Olusegun Obasanjo said even if Jesus Chris conducts election in Nigeria some people will say he collected money from them. I think we need proper voter education; more awareness, which should be created by the political parties.

One contentious issue at the moment is zoning. Many argue that it is meant to give all sections of the country a sense of belonging. What is your take on this?

First of all, democracy started in Athens, and the Athenians defined the concept as excluding slaves, women and youth. In a broader perspective, that is selective democracy. We are now talking about participatory democracy. I am a federalist. I don’t believe in any zoning. I never attended any Yoruba forum. I see myself as a Nigerian and what concerns me is the ability of a leader to deliver. The poverty we have in the south-west is the same in the north. If we want to judge the level of affluence by the number of years the north ruled this country, we should not see any almajiri on the streets of the north. So whoever you bring, the question is whether he has what it takes to deliver. Regarding zoning, law is dynamic like culture. What is acceptable in 1999 may be outdated today. What the PDP did in 1999 was just an alliance; and they had no option but to allow a Yoruba man to rule because of the June 12 factor. Now things have happened that we cannot control. For instance, can we now say that Jonathan as a Nigerian should not contest election? In any case, those t hose who are shouting about zoning, is the PDP the only party? If the PDP says it is not zoning, go to another party.

Okay if zoning is jettisoned don’t you think it would cause chaos, and easy will it be to contain the confusion that will emerge?

For example Ondo State, where people say we are very educated, Oluesgun Agagu came to office with his blood brother as the Chief of Staff. That person is more powerful than the deputy governor. When John Kennedy was president of America, he appointed his brother as Secretary of Health. What matters to me is the ability to deliver. The reason people are afraid now is the fear of the power of incumbency, which goes with the potential to rig elections in Nigeria. That is why some people fear Jonathan. They feel that with the power of incumbency; with the money available to the government and other state apparatus, they cannot stand him in the election. But if elections are free and fair, why not? Jonathan can be defeated at the primary election or the general elections.

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