•As long as president appoints its chairman, INEC will dance to ruling party’s beats
Nigerians have been enjoined not to resort to violence as a result of any dispute arising from the results declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the National Assembly and Presidential elections held throughout the country last Saturday.
Making the appeal in an interview with TUNDE THOMAS, Senator Femi Okurounmu, elder statesmanand former General Secretary of Afenifere implored aggrieved contestants and any other Nigerian dissatisfied with the outcome of the polls to seek redress from the courts rather than resorting to self-help or any other unconstitutional means. He also spoke on other national issues.
How would you react to the outcome of the Presidential and the National Assembly elections?
The outcome of the election result is not surprising especially the presidential elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission as usual has compromised its integrity. By not conducting free and fair elections, the INEC has smeared Tinubu’s victory with doubt and suspicion. I’m not saying the winner would not have won if the election was free and fair but by not conducting free and fair elections, INEC has smeared Tinubu’s victory with a doubt of credibility.
INEC compromised its integrity by not following its own rules during the polls. For instance, the results at the polling units. according to INEC’s own rules and which were announced several times by the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, was that the results at the polling units would be uploaded to the BVAS machines directly so that nobody would have the opportunity of manipulating them. But this was not followed during the elections conducted last Saturday. A lot of results from the polling booths were seen being manipulated by officials of the government of the day and some other individuals. Some of the results were being erased while new figures were being written to replace the original results. Evidence of manipulations was very clear in some places. In Lagos State and some other places, people recorded instances where manipulations of results were taking place. Apart from this, there was a lot of intimidation.
Although they put a lot of security men on duty for security purposes, this personnel were just there for window dressing. They didn’t do their job. Their job was to ensure that the elections were free and fair, that nobody was harassed, and that everybody cast his vote freely. But this was not to be. If Lagos State was to be taken as an example, and from what we all saw, the security men were there doing nothing when some people came and told voters that if they were not going to vote for a particular candidate that they should go away, and this was seen by everybody. Security men were around when ballot boxes were being snatched and thrown away when some people found out that the results were not going their way. These irregularities should not have arisen at all if INEC was indeed determined to conduct a free, and fair elections. The elections were manipulated to give a certain party an advantage. Most of the disenfranchisement took place where a certain party was going to win. The thugs of a favoured party went around many places where they felt their candidate was not going to win and scattered everywhere and the security agents did nothing about it. Even some local and international observers noted these things I’m saying. If elections are free and fair, everybody would accept the results whether you lose or you win. You can’t always win, you win some, and you lose some but in this case, the polls were not free and fair. When you lose, and you lose with dignity, you will congratulate the winner. But when you are not fairly treated, then there will be complaints, and that is why we are seeing protests from different quarters over the election results. However, I implore Nigerians not to resort to violence over the election results. Aggrieved candidates or groups or any individual that feels aggrieved should resort to legal means to seek redress.
Are you saying that INEC has not lived up to expectations?
INEC was a big disappointment, and I’m not surprised. This will not be the first time that INEC would let Nigerians down. It has become a norm for the INEC to be colluding with certain political power, especially the one that is in control of the government to perpetrate electoral fraud. This is also not the first time INEC will do it. INEC did it in 2019. INEC is just there for any party or candidate the government wants to win. Most governments in power in this country except that of former President Goodluck Jonathan have used INEC to rig elections. We have to rethink INEC. INEC is supposed to be a neutral umpire for elections but this has not been the case. In Nigeria, INEC has become the official rigging machine for the government to rig elections.
Then, how can we have credible elections in Nigeria?
The way we constitute INEC must be examined. Who and who appoints members of INEC must be examined. As it is now, INEC is not an unbiased umpire. It is not an independent commission it purports to be. INEC is clearly partisan, and it amounts to a mockery referring to the commission as an independent body. Calling INEC an independent body amounts to insulting Nigerians. How can you refer to INEC as being an independent body when it is a member of the ruling party that appoints the INEC Chairman? Most members of the INEC are card-carrying members of the All Progressives Congress (APC). We have to look for ways to make INEC a truly independent body. We can’t continue this way, otherwise, we will become a laughing stock among the comity of nations.
What’s your take on the letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari on the elections?
What Obasanjo said in the letter was true but he doesn’t have the moral authority to say it because he was guilty of the same offence when he was the Head of State, and when he also served as civilian President. The electoral commissions during his own time were also manipulated by his own government. He lacked the moral authority to condemn INEC because he himself manipulated INEC when he was there. Obasanjo is a very brilliant man, very intelligent, and he knows how to say principled or right things but the problem with him is that anytime he is in authority to do the right things he doesn’t do them. He only says the right things but he doesn’t do the right things.
As a leading chieftain of the Afenifere, and the Southern and Middle-Belt Leaders Forum who endorsed the candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi for the Presidency, how would you assess his performance during the presidential elections?
Obi performed excellently, and we have no regrets about endorsing him. We endorsed him because he was the only candidate that carried the hope that we can have a better country, a progressive country, and a united country. Obi was our hope that we can still have a country that we can be proud of. Nigeria has been run aground in the last eight years of the ruling APC administration. Nigeria is almost collapsing. Nigeria has been driven to the precipice under APC. In terms of security, economy and social order, Nigeria is on the verge of collapse. Peter Obi came at the right time. He represents hope for the hopeless. He ran a good race but those who want the status quo to remain manipulated the elections. Obi and other candidates who feel cheated can seek redress in the courts but I doubt whether anything will come from their efforts to seek justice. If the opposition parties go to court, they can’t get justice. All institutions in Nigeria are already corrupted. The executive arm of the government is corrupt, the legislature is corrupt, and the judiciary is corrupt. It is men that make up these institutions, and it is only when these men are above boards that they can perform their functions. In Nigeria today, how many men in positions of authority in the three arms of government are living above the board? Only a few, if there are at all.
There are few Nigerians in positions of authority today that one can say can’t be bought. Most of those in positions of authority today have a price, and if the price is right you can buy them. I’m not saying that these people should not go to court, but they should not expect any miracle from the courts. In 2019, Atiku won the presidential election. He was robbed of electoral victory, and he knew but he just accepted his fate without exploring the judicial option because he knew he could never get justice from the courts. We must have the courage to say the truth, elections manipulations and rigging are becoming frequent in Nigeria, and this is not good for our democracy.
A lot of us know what is wrong with our system, and society but we pretend and keep telling ourselves lies. Those who dare to tell the truth are given names, they are given unprintable names. But it is only when we start telling ourselves the truth, and begin to insist on the truth that we can have a better country.
Obi performed very well, and to show you that the results were manipulated, in Lagos the results declared by INEC didn’t reflect the true result because I believe that Obi defeated Tinubu by a far wider margin, and I believe that this is what happened in many other states. A lot of results were manipulated to favour the ruling party. All these manipulations constitute a serious danger to our democracy. But I hope that Tinubu when he gets there as the newly elected President will take steps to ensure that Nigeria work. As it is now, Nigeria is not working but even though Tinubu’s election has become a source of controversy because of the way INEC conducted the elections that threw him up as the winner, I hope Tinubu will take the right steps to move Nigeria forward. Otherwise Nigeria will continue to be mired in serious socio-economic woes and the vicious cycle will continue.
The governorship and the State House of Assembly elections are still coming up. What advise do you have for INEC on these coming polls?
What advise do I give to the INEC? Are they going to take it, especially looking at how they performed during last Saturday’s elections where they didn’t live up to expectations? I believe that INEC’s mission is to satisfy the ruling government. INEC must strive to up its game. Many Nigerians are fast losing hope in the electoral body. Many now doubt its neutrality in conducting polls. What I expect from INEC on the remaining elections is for the commission to be diligent in its duties. The officials of the commission should refuse to be comprised by any government officials or candidates. Actually, we have to look for ways to sanitise INEC if we want to have genuine free and fair elections in the country. There is a lot of corruption in that agency, and I’m not talking about the present commission under the leadership of Prof Mahmoud Yakubu only.
The previous electoral bodies were also corrupt, and this is why I said we have to look for ways to sanitise the agency. Speaking from my own personal experience, starting from 1999 when I was elected a Senator, and up till now, state governors, political parties, and even candidates usually set aside some amount of money which they usually give to INEC officials under the guise of helping them with logistics for elections. I stand to be challenged on this. Even the late Senator Ibrahim Mantu made a similar claim during his lifetime. But why would INEC officials be collecting such money when they already have a budget? Even to get your candidates registered by the INEC, you have to give them money, not official money but just for them to quickly facilitate the whole process. This kind of practice has to stop if we want to be having free and fair elections.
Are there lessons Nigerians can learn from the elections?
Nigerians can’t learn any lesson. Nigerians learn no lesson from anything. We’ve had many opportunities in the past to learn so many things but Nigerians learn no lesson from anything. Nigerians are so preoccupied with securing personal advantage. Every opportunity for a Nigerian to secure a personal advantage for himself or the group to which he belongs he sees as an avenue to advance his own personal cause and he will compromise all known principles to achieve that personal advantage. And if we continue this way, the future is bleak for the country. It is time to change our orientation from being self-centred to thinking about the collective interests of all.
For Asiwaju Tinubu, the winner of the presidential elections, which areas would you like his administration to give top priority?
Tinubu can surprise everybody if he can restructure the country. Secondly, he should address the issue of insecurity. Thirdly he should give us a country where all Nigerians are equal and free from injustice. He should also ensure that Nigeria remains a truly secular country where religion doesn’t play a role in opportunities you have or you don’t have.
Restructuring is very important, and he should accord it a top priority. We have to return to true practice of federalism as we were doing in the First Republic before the military truncated democracy in 1966. We have to restructure if we want to move forward as a nation. It is the only panacea to the myriads of socio-economic challenges facing the nation. We are just pretending by saying that Nigeria is a federal state. It is a centralized system of government we have now and true federalism is almost completely eroded. We operated true federalism until January 15, 1966 when we had the first military coup, and since then we have been practising a centralised form of government. And that’s why we have been having these enormous challenges which have become an albatross on the nation.
This present government made a series of promises in 2015, and this include the promise to restructure the country. But sadly, the government has not fulfilled any of the promises it made to Nigerians. This was why many Nigerians were praying for genuine change before the general elections. But now with the way the results have gone, one can only hope that Tinubu, the incoming President, will have the courage to restructure the country. We have to forget about Buhari and his broken promises to the nation. Nigerians have to hope for the best in the incoming administration.
The incoming administration will inherit a debt of about N77 trillion from the outgoing administration. What will be your advice to the new government on how to handle the issue?
It is unfortunate that the outgoing government is leaving Nigeria in a state of disaster. It is very sad that the Buhari government is leaving behind such huge debts and there is no doubt that this will be a sort of burden on the incoming administration. I don’t see any justification for the government to incur such debt, which will become a burden not only on the incoming government but on the entire Nigerians. They should tell Nigerians what they used the N77 trillion for. Nigerians demand accountability from them on this issue because the socio-economic conditions in the country is getting worse daily. There is hunger and poverty in the land. Nigerians are going through serious hardship. Look at the pains being inflicted on Nigerians as a result of the naira redesign by Buhari’s administration. Whether it is in terms of security or the economy, this outgoing government is leaving Nigeria on the verge of collapse so it is our hope that the new government will find solutions to all these challenges so that the nation can still remain as one. The new government should assemble a team of economic experts that will give them advice on how to resolve the debt issue.
As the Chairman, of the Presidential Advisory Committee that birthed the 2014 National Conference, what’s your advice to the in-coming government on the reports of that confab which is yet to be implemented?
Buhari said he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the report. He said he will consign the reports to the archives but I hope that the new government will take another look at the confab reports, which contained valuable recommendations on how to move Nigeria forward. One of the recommendations of the confab was the restructuring of the country. Even the Governor El-Rufai-led a committee set up by Buhari’s party, APC on how to move Nigeria forward recommended restructuring, but for the best reason known to him, Buhari ignored the committee’s recommendation. But sincerely speaking, there is no way this nation can move forward without restructuring. Nigeria is sitting on a powder keg, and one of the best ways to diffuse tension is to restructure so that the nation can move forward, and it is my hope that the incoming administration will do the needful in this regard.